April 2001

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Researchers at the Metropolitan Research and Policy Institute, University of Texas, San Antonio, examined state surveys on Latino adolescent substance abuse and compared them with two national surveys conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study offered:

  • Methodological recommendations to improve state surveys.
  • Described how nonparticipation in state surveys threatens their validity.
  • Offered several substantive findings.

A final project report is available online.

Key Findings

  • Substance-use surveys should identify race and Latino ethnicity of the subjects (e.g., Puerto Rican vs. Mexican) and should separate Latinos into a US-born group and an immigrant group.
  • The failure to achieve adequate participation severely restricts the ability of researchers to generalize from survey findings.
  • State surveys consistently report higher rates of substance use among adolescents than does the federal survey Monitoring the Future.
  • Federal and state surveys yield differing rates of Latino adolescent drug use within the same state. The two federal surveys also yield differing national drug use rates for Latino adolescents.
  • Within states, rates of Latino adolescent drug use generally are higher than among African Americans and slightly lower, equal to, or higher than among non-Hispanic whites.
  • State surveys show that Latino adolescent drug use rates have increased in the 1990s (especially for marijuana) and have also increased relative to other ethnic groups.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with a grant of $129,884.

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THE PROJECT

Latinos are the most rapidly increasing ethnic group in the United States, due to a combination of high fertility rates and a high volume of immigration, and they are the group with the lowest median age. Any analysis of their alcohol and drug use needs to consider significant subgroup variations, related in part to length of residence in the United States, national origin, and region of residency.

Current data on drug use among this population are compromised by a lack of methodological rigor in sampling techniques, which raises questions about whether a state's data adequately represent its population; inconsistency in the information that is reported in state surveys from year to year; inconsistency in the manner in which substance use is measured; and inadequate reporting of gender and Latino ethnic variations (e.g., between Latinos from Mexico and those from Puerto Rico) in substance-use rates.

This grant from RWJF provided funding for research designed to:

  1. Identify existing databases at the national, regional, state, and local levels that contain information about substance abuse among Latino adolescents as compared to other racial groups.
  2. valuate the feasibility of merging these databases and using them for comparative analyses of patterns and trends.
  3. Generate policy papers that evaluate the scope of Latino alcohol and drug use patterns in the context of current national substance abuse policies.
  4. Produce scientific papers addressing the methods for improving the quality of available data.

The project was undertaken as a cooperative project among researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Florida International University in Miami, and San Diego State University, all of whom with substantial experience in Latino substance abuse research. Although researchers gathered information from many states, the analysis was ultimately limited to Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, states with large Latino populations that had conducted multiple surveys over time.

Latino ethnic variations within states over time, across states over time, and between state and national data over time were analyzed. The two federal surveys used for comparison were Monitoring the Future, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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FINDINGS

Methodological recommendations for improving state substance-use surveys:

  • Identify race and Latino ethnicity of the subjects and include fuller information by gender and ethnic group.
  • Separate Latinos into a US-born group and an immigrant group. Many studies have reported that the large Latino immigrant population has far lower rates of substance use than Latinos born in the United States, despite having a far lower median income.
  • Select more uniform data to examine the factors associated with substance use. As well, standardize units of measurement in order to more readily compare surveys over time.
  • Design surveys to produce reliable estimates of error for the populations and school grade levels they purport to measure. Estimates by school grade should also be consistent over time.
  • Uniformly identify the key factors to report in order to provide the basic information needed for making policy decisions.
  • Given the homogeneity of many school districts, more meaningful diversity may be achievable using schools, rather than school districts, as the primary sampling units.
  • Oversampling certain key subpopulations (such as different Latino ethnic groups) would enhance the capacity to develop more precise estimates of drug use and to make more meaningful statistical comparisons.

Threats to the validity of state surveys due to nonparticipation and/or nonresponse:

  • Nonparticipation at the levels of both school district and school severely restricts the ability to generalize from survey outcomes.
  • Although the failure of students to participate in surveys has been largely attributed to the requirement to obtain signed consent forms from parents, unacceptably high nonresponse rates also exist where students are not required to return consent forms. Biases resulting from student nonparticipation pose a serious threat to study integrity. The nonresponse rate among Latinos is similar to that for other groups of students.
  • The reasons that students fail to obtain parental consent or to agree to volunteer participation in surveys need to be carefully examined. More information on this topic may allow statistical adjustments of data estimates.

Major substantive findings:

  • State surveys consistently report higher rates of substance use among all adolescents than does the federal survey Monitoring the Future.
  • Federal and state surveys yield differing rates of Latino adolescent drug use within the same state. The two federal surveys also yield differing national drug-use rates for Latino adolescents.
  • State surveys show very large variations in estimates of all adolescent drug use across states.
  • Within states, rates of Latino adolescent drug use generally are higher than among African Americans and slightly lower, equal to, or higher than among non-Hispanic whites.
  • State surveys show that Latino adolescent drug use rates have increased in the 1990s (especially for marijuana) and have also increased relative to other ethnic groups.

Communications

The project's final report was placed on the Web site of the Metropolitan Research and Policy Institute, University of Texas, San Antonio, and distributed to the five states whose surveys were analyzed (see the Bibliography). Other planned scientific and policy papers have been completed or are nearing completion.

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LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Gathering and using information about race and ethnicity is highly controversial and politically sensitive. This project took place during a time of contentious debate about the value of data identifying ethnicity in public use data sets, including health surveys. In California, the debate had the effect of altering the approach to data collection. This obscured the substance-use profile among Latinos and made it impossible to compare their data to previous California surveys, to data from other states, or to the federal surveys.

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AFTER THE GRANT

The investigators expect to integrate the results and recommendations of this study into their research programs, and anticipate that these will be used to support the work of the nonprofit Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco and other national health advocacy groups. The project team has consulted with relevant federal agencies about its findings. Further dissemination is planned through fact sheets, policy papers, and other publications. The federal government is currently engaged in efforts to improve comparability in survey data elements and design, which may improve the utility of this type of research.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Improving Research on Latino Substance Abuse

Grantee

University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio,  TX)

  • Amount: $ 129,884
    Dates: July 1998 to December 1999
    ID#:  034551

Contact

William Vega, Ph.D.
(732) 235-9281
vegawa@umdnj.edu

Web Site

http://mrpi.utsa.edu/content/rwj.htm

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Books and Reports

Vega WA, Gil A, and Kolody B. State and National Patterns of Latino Adolescent Drug Use: A Methodological Assessment. University of Texas at San Antonio: San Antonio, Texas, 2000. Copies distributed to participating states. Also appears online.

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Report prepared by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: David Kales
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Program Officer: Seth L. Emont

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