COLORADO, USA — Although the face of the opioid crisis has been considered as predominantly white and rural, a recent report shows that overdose deaths among Latinos have skyrocketed in recent years.
According to NBC News, experts attribute the increase to fentanyl, especially when mixed with other drugs.
A report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that overdose deaths among Latinos have nearly tripled since 2011.
According to NBC News, overdose deaths have risen dramatically when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, which are more prevalent among Latinos than heroin or prescription pain relievers.
According to NBC News, fatal overdoses among Latinos from opioids mixed with cocaine increased 729% between 2007 and 2019, and when mixed with methamphetamines, they increased 4,600%.
It's not clear if the mix happens on purpose or by accident, but researchers believe both are happening.
According to NBC News, there is a need for more information and better treatment alternatives because when it comes to opioid addiction, it's common in some Latino communities to find religious rehab centers that focus on faith-based treatment versus evidence-based treatment.
This means that the approach to fighting addiction emphasizes prayer and willpower over the use of drugs such as naloxone, which has been found to be less potent and has been shown to help those addicted to stop incrementally, NBC News reports.
For Latino immigrants, issues around legal status and language barriers make it harder to find help in rehabilitation centers that offer Latinos support, according to NBC News.
According to NBC News, more Latino families are struggling to make sense of overdose deaths among people who did not have a history of addiction or didn’t even know they were taking an opioid.
The fentanyl crisis has also been seen in Colorado. In February 2022, two Latino families in Commerce City used what they thought was cocaine, but it ended up killing five of them from an overdose of what turned out to be fentanyl.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), there were 49 fentanyl overdose deaths in Colorado in 2016. In 2021, there were 803 deaths, and that data is not final.
In addition, the Denver division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly seized around 800,000 fentanyl pills in the five months before February 2022 alone, 10 times more than the 80,000 seized in 2019.
House Bill 22-1326, which became law in May 2022, seeks to address the fentanyl crisis through several means: heightened felony charges for possession of 1 to 4 grams of any substance containing fentanyl; harm reduction programs to help people stay alive and treat their addictions, including mandating medication-assisted treatment in jails; an education program; widespread availability of opioid antagonists, such as Naloxone, and testing strips that drug users could use to see if the street drugs they're taking contain fentanyl; criminal investigations into fentanyl overdoses that resulted in death; and monitoring of overdoses and of the bill's own impacts.
Editor's Note: This article previously cited an article that was published before Colorado had a law allowing prosecutors to charge drug dealers with distributing fentanyl causing death. Governor Jared Polis signed sweeping legislation into law in May 2022 to address the state's rampant fentanyl crisis.
Previous reporting by Angela Case, Wilson Beese and Matt Jablow is included in this story.
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