April 29, 2021
Understanding Mental Health and Addiction in the Latino Community

In the past three decades, Ohio has undergone a major transformation in the makeup of its resident population. Between 1990 and 2010, Ohio’s white, non-Hispanic population dropped 6% with the Hispanic population increasing by 63%[1]. In fact, Hispanics now lead population growth in 87 out of 88 Ohio counties.

The Opioid Alliance recently sat down with Lilly Cavanaugh, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA), to discuss how diverse communities are being impacted by the opioid epidemic and best practices for addressing the disparities that exist.


Why did OCHLA join the Alliance?

We felt that it was important to be part of the solution to ending the opioid crisis in Ohio. We’ve seen how the Alliance has brought government, nonprofits, and businesses together and that kind of local investment is needed to provide sustainability and help change the minds of parents, teachers and youth regarding the threat that prescription opioids represent.

We also felt it was critical for Latino families to know that the Latino Affairs Commission is involved in these efforts. It makes a big difference when someone who looks and speaks like you is engaged. Someone who understands what it’s like to be a migrant, immigrant, New American, or second or third generation Latino.


How is the Latino community being impacted by the opioid epidemic?

The opioid crisis does not distinguish between ethnic or racial groups and recent data shows how prevalent this problem is in the Hispanic/Latino community. Ohio has the fourth-highest opioid-related overdose death rate for Hispanics and death rates involving synthetic opioids such as heroin have increased by 617% among the entire U.S. population.

The Alliance is providing us a place to better understand the problem and to voice the context and factors that impact our community, with a special emphasis on the challenges to prevention education, early intervention and treatment.


Is there a stigma surrounding issues of mental health and addiction in the Latino community?

There is definitely a stigma surrounding issues of mental health and addiction. In general, Latinos tend to be very private, and issues of substance use and mental health problems are often kept inside the home.
There is a lot of historical trauma for many people in the Latino community as well that can lead to issues of mental health and addiction. Immigration, for example, can play a key role.

The trauma of acculturation, leaving one’s home country and family behind, and the general unwelcome environment toward immigrants adds to the problem. Additionally, the fear of deportation or dealing with the trauma of having someone deported can scar you for life.


How do we combat the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction?

Having open conversations about the issues we deal with is a critical first step. Culturally speaking, this is not something we as Latinos like to do. Denial or trusting in “God’s will” is an easier alternative. But we know that articulating the realities and stressors experienced by Latino and other ethnic minority communities is a required first step.

This is a complex problem that includes language and cultural barriers, stigma, misperceptions, and lack of culturally responsive prevention and treatment. I think we are going in the right direction and will continue to work together to improve services and access so that Latinos can have the support systems they need to thrive in Ohio.


How can the Alliance and its partners ensure its outreach is inclusive to the Latino population and other new American populations?

It is very important to include the voices of those we are seeking to help. The obstacles experienced by Latino and other ethnic minorities are real, and we need to think outside the box to create innovative strategies for outreach and engagement to ensure prevention, treatment and recovery.  I am pleased to know we can contribute to this effort on behalf of the Latino community in Ohio.


For more information on OCHLA and its role in the Alliance, or for resources in Spanish, click here.

[1] Charting the Changes: Ohio Demographic Profile. (2011). Policy Research and Strategic Planning Office.

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