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Miller School Experts Working with Organization of American States to Identify Substance Use Preventive Interventions in Latin American and the Caribbean 

In recent decades and especially amid COVID-19, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use have become global public health concerns, particularly among youth in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Public health experts with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are working with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission to develop a comprehensive report that includes a registry of preventive interventions for youth who use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in the region. The report's registry will allow practitioners, academics, and governmental authorities in Latin American and the Caribbean to make informed decisions about planning and implementing efforts to prevent youth substance use. 

Through a scoping literature review and surveys disseminated throughout the region, the report has thus far identified 55 unique preventive interventions that are currently being in place. Thirty-five of the interventions were developed locally in Latin American and the Caribbean and 20 were adapted from Europe or the United States. Most of the interventions adopted a universal prevention or health promotions approach and were implemented in schools, in the community, or both. 

“We were happy to find such a large number of interventions being used and developed locally,” said report principal investigator Eric C. Brown, Ph.D., associate professor in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences. “However, the efficacy of these interventions and the fidelity with which they are being implemented are still open questions.”

Arthur de Oliveira Correa, M.Sc., a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Public Health’s Prevention Science and Community Health program, said that while it is common among North American and European researchers to assume a lack of prevention interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report’s registry shows the contrary.

“This report has shown that there are a number of interventions available, most of which are home-grown,” said de Oliveira Correa. “More than importing foreign interventions, what the region currently needs is a database that organizes information about existing programs and best practices, providing academics and practitioners with real-time access to them.”

While the findings are showing that prevention for youth who use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs is diffusing throughout the Americas—according to Dr. Brown—the levels of use among youth have remained steadily high and even increased in some countries in the region.

Another report led by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission in 2019 has also revealed startling statistics on substance use among youth. The report showed that:

  • At least 20 percent of adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean had consumed alcohol in the past month, with prevalence rates varying from 7.6 percent to 50.1 percent, and exceeding 30 percent in most of the countries.
  • Past month tobacco use ranged from 1.8 percent to 23.7 percent while past-year cannabis use ranged between 0.9 percent and 32.8 percent.
  • Inhalant use also represents a significant problem, with past-year prevalence ranging between 0.5 percent and 11 percent across surveyed countries.
  • Other drug use rates were lower, yet still troublesome. Past year prevalence of cocaine ranged between 0.2 percent to over 4.2 percent, while past year “Ecstasy” use varied from 0.1 percent to over 2.5 percent.

The statistics of the report by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission coupled with the findings in the Miller School-led report thus far highlight the continued need to develop, implement, evaluate, and disseminate preventive interventions for youth who use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The changing panorama of substance availability and use among youth, such as from traditional alcohol use to pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverage use, from traditional cigarette use to e-cigarette use, hookah use, and vaping, and with the expansion of legal recreational marijuana use, calls for immediate attention to these questions, specifically with regard to existing deficits in prevention science knowledge, funding for prevention efforts, and maximal dissemination of available preventive interventions throughout the region,” said Dr. Brown. 

Members of Dr. Brown’s “Prevention Education and Research in Latin America” (PERLA) lab that are working on the Miller School-led report also include Ph.D. candidates Pablo Montero-Zamora, M.Sc., D.D.S., and Francisco Cardozo-Macias, M.Sc., as well as Aidan Wells, an M.P.H./M.A.L.A.S. candidate. Dr. Brown and the team are currently working on a study detailing more findings, which should be released during summer 2021.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on April 7, 2021