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Ore. Study Notes High Drug Use Among Hispanics Trying to Adapt

A study led by an Oregon State University sociologist runs counter to some assumptions that Hispanic immigrants tend to bring their drug habits with them to the United States.

It concludes that most such drug problems appear linked to pressures to adapt, maybe too quickly, to American ways, especially in the Pacific Northwest where many Hispanics lack the influence of families and of their culture.

The study found drug use among Hispanics in Washington State to be vastly higher than use among those still surrounded by their own culture. Washington, like Oregon, has a sparse, scattered and generally rural Hispanic population,

The report said the authors predicted that in a dispersed and isolated Hispanic population, the pressure to assimilate would increase the likelihood of substance abuse.

“Our analysis revealed that acculturated Hispanics were almost 13 times as likely to report current illegal drug use and more than four times as likely to report current hard drug use as non-acculturated Hispanics,” said the report, whose lead writer was Dr. Scott Akins, an assistant professor of sociology at OSU.

The 13-month survey, which ended in February 2004, was based on data from 6,713 adults, 1,690 of whom identified themselves as Hispanic. Of the Hispanics, 956 opted to complete the survey in English and were classified by the authors as “acculturated,” or assimilated, and the remainder were classified as “non-acculturated.”

The study was to be presented Sunday at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in New York and is to be published in the Journal of Drug Issues. It was co-authored by Drs. Clayton Mosher of Washington State University, Chad L. Smith of Texas State University and Jane Florence Gauthier of University of Nevada Las Vegas.

The study showed reports of drug use and binge drinking among assimilated Hispanics in Washington to be roughly equal to those of Whites but vastly higher than among Hispanics surrounded more by their own cultures.

It took into account factors such as poverty and minimal education, which also can influence drug use, the authors said.

Akins told The Associated Press the authors concluded that “the traditional culture that many Northwest Hispanic immigrants have originated from is more conservative about excessive alcohol use and much more conservative about illegal drug use than is American society in general.”

“Although acculturation and assimilation will provide some migrants with benefits such as wealth and job stability, immigration and acculturation can be a difficult process which has negative consequences as well,” he continued. “When people immigrate to the U.S., their patterns of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse increase over time.”

The report cited U.S. Census estimates that America’s Hispanic population could surpass 25 percent by 2050 and said more studies predicting drug abuse among Hispanic adults are needed.

“In states such as California, you have large Hispanic enclaves that have a protective buffering effect for new residents. But we wanted to find out what was happening in Washington, a state with a relatively small Hispanic population (only 9 percent statewide), which is disproportionately rural and dispersed,” Akins wrote.

Oregon’s Hispanic percentage is about the same and is similarly dispersed.

He said the authors believe it is the first study of its kind in the region, although surveys have been done in states with large Hispanic concentrations, such as California, Florida and Texas.

Parts of their findings are reflected elsewhere.

In heavily Hispanic South Florida, Hispanic women between the ages of 19 and 21 and born in the United States faced higher addiction risks than immigrants, according to a study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

— Associated Press

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