It’s the first day of school. There’s both excitement and anxiety in the air – for both teachers and students alike. As the teacher starts his class, a young 8th grade girl falls out of her chair. She didn’t fall out of her chair because she was sleepy or someone pushed her. She fell out of her chair because she was high on drugs. This is a true story that was experienced at a middle school just a few days ago, and unfortunately, it’s a story that is transpiring with more and more frequency in our country.
A recent study completed by the Partnership at Drug Free has revealed a change in drug and alcohol abuse among teens, grades 9-12. For the past decade, use has seen a steady decline. After 2008, however, the trend has reversed and use of marijuana has increased significantly. Alarming is the fact that Latino teens are abusing substances more than teens of any other ethnic group.
Our teens are 40% more likely to use illicit drugs than Caucasian teens and 30% more likely than African American teens. Since 2008, past year use of any illicit drug for Hispanic teens has increased by 20%. 50% of our youth have tried marijuana in the past year. 15% have tried ecstasy, and 12% have tried crack cocaine. These numbers are significantly higher than the numbers for their African American and Caucasian counterparts.
When it comes to friends, the numbers show that our children are more likely to have friends who have done drugs, as well. 77% of Hispanic teens report that they have friends who have done marijuana. This is high than the rates for Whites and Blacks, which are 68% and 69% respectively. For ecstasy, this gap widens considerably. 46% of our kids say they know a friend who does ecstasy. Only 28% of whites, and 29% of black teens can say the same.
Attitudes towards drug abuse are also noticeably different than with other racial groups. Only slightly above half of Hispanic teens say they are ‘scared to use drugs’ compared 62% of Caucasian teens. According to CNN, there may be a reason for this as Hispanic parents are more likely to allow their teens to do drugs such as Marijuana, than White or Black parents. 21% of the parents in our community say they are okay with allowing their teen to smoke marijuana, compared to 11% of African American parents, and only 6% of Caucasian parents.
So why are the numbers significantly skewed for our teens? Researchers are not quite sure. Their research has shown that Latino parents are more likely to talk with their teens about drug use, than other parents. This seems to indicate that talks alone are not enough to prevent drug use. And the numbers back that up. As a whole, we are less likely to ask about our teens’ days, enforces rules when they are broken, or monitor every day activities.
So what can be done? At an individual level, encourage parents to continue their discussions with their children about the dangers of substance abuse. Organizationally, look for ways to initiate and expand culturally relevant programs that engage whole families. Systemically, work with the National Alliance for Hispanic Families to call on resources to be directed to organizations who best understand, and can best serve, our Latino youth.