HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – There’s a disturbing development concerning progress being made to fight the opioid epidemic. Despite encouraging news that opioid overdoses are on the decline, abuse of the drug is growing among a particular population.
That population is the Hispanic community. As Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains, community leaders met on Thursday to create awareness of that problem and look for solutions.
Speaking from a podium, James Schuster, MD who is Chief Medical Director, UPMC For You Community Care Behavioral Health said, “We owe it to be a source of information. A lot of education.”
And that’s at the heart of what’s billed as an opioid response strategy. Pastor Franklin Anziani organized the event at Hazleton One Community Center because of a growing problem he witnesses.
“We have an issue and we need to work together to resolve this issue,” he said.
Pastor Anziani is seeing more and more Latino/Hispanic people who make up more than half of his community suffering from opioid abuse.
“This is something that you need help to get out of it. I mean we see it. We see people die from it,” Pastor Anziani said.
Just last week, the Wolf Administration cited an 18 percent decline in opioid overdose deaths in Pennsylvania which was a first in five years. But it doesn’t tell the story of what’s happening in the Hazleton area.
“We’re still very much in the midst of an opioid epidemic especially perhaps in some of these communities where culturally competent care is not as easily found,” said Jason Snyder who is Regional Director of Strategic Partnerships for Pinnacle Treatment Centers, Inc.
The Opioid Response Strategy Program Moderator Mauricio Conde also weighed in on the problem.
“In some cases, it’s language barrier, cultural competence, the lack of knowing that the communities and the cultures and understanding that not one size fits all,” he said.
Barriers which Mr. Conde says can result in devastating consequences.
“Many times because of the cultures, Latinos or any other minorities, we don’t seek help until it is too late,” Mr. Conde said.
The conclusion based on the expertise of these community leaders? Trust and credibility are as important as the treatment to curb opioid addiction in the Latino/Hispanic community.
“Bilingual doesn’t always necessarily equal cultural competence. It’s a big, big step but it’s still a challenge,” said Mr. Snyder.
Besides trust, credibility, and treatment, transportation is also an issue for some in the Latino/Hispanic community. Individuals can become another statistic if they don’t have a way to get to the treatment they desperately need.
Pastor Anziani says he hopes to hold another opioid community forum in Hazleton within the next few months.