Latinos grapple with opioid overdose rise as pandemic triggers surge in U.S. use

Medication Disposal Greater Lowell

Diego considers himself fortunate.

The 49-year-old man, who is only being identified by his first name for privacy reasons, thinks back on some dark moments in his life —all associated with drugs.

He said his brothers introduced him to narcotics when he was 12 and living in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. By the time he was 17, said Diego, who is of Puerto Rican descent, he was not only using drugs, but also trafficking in them. He said the drugs plunged him into a spiral of addiction, fracturing his family relationships and landing him in jail numerous times.

But at least the drugs didn’t kill him, he said with relief during a phone interview.

“I think I am lucky. I lost a nephew in December 2020. I lost two of my four brothers, one in 2008 and one in 2018. All from overdoses,” he said. “But I don’t have to be my brothers or my nephew.”

Diego spoke to Noticias Telemundo from Casa Esperanza, a Boston-based behavioral health facility and one of the few U.S. centers that offer detoxification and mental health services in Spanish.

The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, described the issue of uncontrolled opioid use in the Latino community as a “matter of urgency” in a special report released in 2020.

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