Study Finds Drug Use Increases With ‘Acculturation’

Andrew Theen, Oregon Public Broadcasting, August 13, 2007

New research from an Oregon university shows an increase in drug and alcohol use among Hispanics who are considered “acculturated” into American society.

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Scott Akins was the lead author of the study. His research group sampled 6,900 Washington residents. About 1,700 people designated themselves as Hispanic.

Akins said the dominant factor that determines whether or not a person is becoming “acculturated” is language. Meaning English is their primary language.

That group was 13 times more likely than other Hispanics who responded in Spanish to use illegal drugs.

Akins’ research found the “acculturated” group reported illicit drug use at a comparable level to that of whites. 7.2 percent for the acculturated Hispanics; 6.4 percent for whites.

Meanwhile Spanish-speakers reported a less than one percent use. Akins cautioned that the study is not an indictment of any society.

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But Maria-Elena Ruiz says surveys can often miss the larger picture. Ruiz is an assistant professor at the OHSU’s Center for Health Disparities. She says she’s a bilingual and bicultural Latina and takes exception to the label Hispanic.

Maria-Elena Ruiz : “People tend to use Hispanic now as a race, and that’s something that we’re concerned about. They tend to lump everyone together. And Hispanics are from many countries.”

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For his part, Professor Akins says there are many factors that simply could not be included in the survey. Many immigrant families who work as migrant laborers do not respond to surveys for fear of retribution. All parties involved agreed on the need for more research.

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