Latino Overdose Rates Are Rising : Shots - Health News Opioid addiction is often portrayed as a white problem, but overdose rates are now rising faster among Latinos and blacks. Cultural and linguistic barriers may put Latinos at greater risk.
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What Explains The Rising Overdose Rate Among Latinos?

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What Explains The Rising Overdose Rate Among Latinos?

What Explains The Rising Overdose Rate Among Latinos?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In the nation's opioid epidemic, blacks and Latinos are dying at a faster rate than whites. There is little research that explains why this is the case, especially for Latinos. To learn more, reporter Martha Bebinger from member station WBUR takes us to a small gathering at a bilingual treatment program in Boston.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: In Massachusetts, the most recent statewide report shows the overdose death rate for Latinos is rising twice as fast as that of blacks and whites.

IRMA BERMUDEZ: That has a lot to do with the language barrier.

BEBINGER: Irma Bermudez says many Latinos hit the first barrier when they open brochures or websites that advertise treatment.

BERMUDEZ: I mean, we might find out about an agency and walk in there, but if there's no translation, we're not going to get nothing out of it.

BEBINGER: Group counseling in another language that's isolating, not therapeutic. Recovery coach Richie Lopez spends hours a day trying to help clients find programs with translators. Most calls end like this.

RICHIE LOPEZ: Cheese and crackers. You're telling me that this person has to wait two to three months to get a bed? I'm trying to save this person today.

BEBINGER: There are cultural barriers, too. A few years ago when Lopez was still using, he wouldn't accept help from anyone, even during an overdose.

LOPEZ: It's not cool to be calling 911.

BEBINGER: Although, Lopez says, this is more true of Latino men than women.

LOPEZ: You know, to men in the house, like, the word help sounds, like, degrading. You know what I'm saying? Like, you degrade yourself. Not even 911. 911 is like you're getting exiled from your community.

BEBINGER: That's social exile. Felito Diaz says possible physical exile terrifies some Latinos, too.

FELITO DIAZ: They fear if they get involved, they are going to get deported.

BERMUDEZ: Yeah, if you will be facing deportation. Definitely.

BEBINGER: Bermudez jumps in.

BERMUDEZ: And some other women, also, if they're in a relationship or trying to protect someone, they might hesitate, as well.

BEBINGER: Hesitate if their boyfriend or husband is wanted for drug possession or a related crime. There is one more reason death rates may be rising faster for Latinos. Some Latinos say they get discounts on heroin or fentanyl and the first, most potent cut through Dominican organizations, which control most distribution in the Northeast, according to the DEA. Lopez explains.

LOPEZ: Of course I would feel more comfortable selling to a Latino if I was a drug dealer than a Caucasian or somebody else because I know how to relate and get that money off them.

BEBINGER: Avoiding a return to those ties is the next challenge for Lopez and other Latinos in recovery. For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

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GREENE: And Martha's story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WBUR and Kaiser Health News.

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