Social pressure leads young Latinos to consume drugs

By Alvaro Celorio y Carlos Garcia

Social pressure is one of the main causes that pushes young Latinos to consume opiates, mostly prescribed, according to the creator of the first awareness campaign about the use of these drugs for the Latino population, the psychologist Marta Michelle Colón .

“A young woman told me that the last time her friends invited her to a party, they told her not to go if she was not going to take some drugs, but to stay at home means staying behind, something that is difficult because it makes her feel alone,” she explains in an interview.

Colón leads “Be Gutsy” (Ten Agallas), a campaign focused on the Hispanic community to inform them about the humanitarian crisis of the consumption of opiates in the United States, which was declared a “national emergency” in 2017 and that is responsible for about one hundred dead teenagers every day in America.

The Puerto Rican living in New York details how at parties the young people have a free bar of pills: “oxys” (the abbreviation of OxyContin, a potent drug) or “percs” (Percocet) are just some of the capsules of which adolescents have and consume without information of the possible consequences.

Because as the specialist emphasizes, in addition to social pressure, the lack of information is one of the reasons why young people start using these opioids, since they are unaware that uncontrolled consumption of prescription drugs can get them hooked and, ultimately, be lethal. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 there were 70,237 deaths due to overdoses.

According to another agency, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, only 8% of deaths from opiate overdoses that year occurred among the Hispanic population in the US, a percentage that doubles when data from the New York State was abailable.

“Young people understand that being addicted to opiates or pills is not the same as being addicted to heroin, which is being a junkie,” he says.

Colón cites as an example the case of an adolescent girl from the New York borough of the Bronx, 16 years old who, during a complicated pregnancy, began taking pills for her back pain at the suggestion of her mother and grandmother. These were pills prescribed by a doctor to one of them who, unaware that they were a controlled medication, decided to give them to the girl.

For six months the girl consumed these pills without consulting her gynecologist, which caused that when her son was born, she did it with an overdose and had to go through a detoxification program from the first hours of her life.

“Be gutsy” is focused mainly on the Latino communities since, during their research, the psychologist was aware of the lack of initiatives that culturally appeal to the group. Colón gives the example of Latin grandmothers who, concerned about the welfare of their family, give pills to their children or grandchildren without knowing - because they do not speak English - that they are potentially very addictive medications.

Through social networks, educational projects -such as lectures or a theater play- and collaboration with doctors, “Be Gutsy” wants young people to talk to their peers and inform them of the risks of these practices.

“I do not tell them not to use them, they are horrible, I tell them what they are and that they can die or be addicted to their consumption, there are many young people who are using them and, if you know people, please tell them to seek help, “he explains.

Columbus was involved in the crisis of opiates when his brother, at a very young age, began to be addicted to them after a very horrible motorcycle accident.

“If I had known what I know now, I probably would have saved him because I did not know that it came from pain medication,” he concludes.