CHARLOTTE – The Alianza Latino Drug Free Coalition earned national recognition recently for its efforts in reducing underage substance use in Mecklenburg County.
The Center for Prevention Services established Alianza (alliance in Spanish) in 2014. The community group focuses on preventing misuse of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs among Latino youth.
“Our Latino community often lacks access to credible, scientific information about substances that is culturally and linguistically appropriate and our goal is to close that gap,” said Jessica Montana, Alianza’s program director.
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America honored Alianza with the 2018 National Coalition Academy Chairman’s Award during its National Leadership Forum in Maryland.
Alianza received the award for its approach to bringing the Latino community in Mecklenburg County together to discuss substance use issues and the cultural norms that underlie these issues. The coalition then used these discussions to inform and direct their education and outreach efforts with Latino parents and youth.
Charlotte has seen a boom in Latino population growth over the past 20 years.
Currently, 13.5 percent of Charlotte’s population is Latino, and almost one of every four students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (24 percent) is Latino, according to the alliance.
The 2015 Youth Drug Survey, conducted by Center for Prevention Services in all CMS middle and high schools, found that among Latino high school students surveyed, 15.9 percent reported having one or more drinks of alcohol in the past 30 days, 48.1 percent reported having used marijuana in their lifetime and 19.1 percent reported using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription at least once during their life.
“The stresses of moving to a new country are many, and Latinos are not immune to turning to substance abuse as a way to cope,” said Brant Aycock, Alianza chairman. “What is unique about this population is that cultural attitudes towards substance abuse and behavioral health may prevent Latino individuals from admitting that they have a problem and seeking help. Add to this complications of language barriers and immigration status affecting access to care – and you can see the need to craft specific strategies to work with this population.”