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Scientists Meet in Miami to Address Impact of Drug Abuse on Hispanics

MIAMI, Sept. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Hispanics comprise one of the youngest segments of the U.S. population, with a third of the population under 18 years of age. The greatest risk for becoming dependent on drugs occurs between the ages of 15 and 29, according to Drug Use Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities, a 2003 report issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These facts together are of particular importance to Hispanics, considering that Hispanic adolescents have higher rates of drug use than other groups in the U.S.

Recent national data on current (defined as last month) illegal drug use among 12th-graders reveal that Hispanic high-school seniors have the highest rates for use of cocaine, crack and heroin. Even so, these are underestimates of actual drug use rates for Hispanics, given that a large proportion of Hispanics do not make it to 12th grade.

According to Dr. Jose Szapocznik, Chair of the National Hispanic Science Network and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami, we have learned much about why Hispanic adolescents account for such a large percentage of drug users, but there is still much to learn about how this public health tragedy can be prevented and treated. A major problem is
that there are not enough Hispanic scientists. "Even though Hispanics are now 13 percent of the population, we only account for 3 percent of researchers."

In response to this urgent public health need in the Hispanic communities, a group of Hispanic scientists from around the country met in Miami five years ago and founded the National Hispanic Science Network (NHSN), with collaboration and funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The NHSN is dedicated to improving the health of Hispanics by increasing the amount and
quality of interdisciplinary research on Hispanic drug abuse and by promoting the development of young Hispanic scientists in drug abuse research. A major focus of the Network is to attract to Hispanic drug abuse research, and then mentor, Hispanic doctoral students and young scientists.

Since its inception, the NHSN has been instrumental in advancing the careers of many Hispanic scientists by providing mentoring and collaborative opportunities in the drug abuse research field. One such scientist is Mexican-born Dr. Guillermo "Willy" Prado, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Florida International University in Miami, Fla. "[NHSN]
provides a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to emerge into scientists," Prado said. "What's unique about NHSN is that there really are a lot of opportunities to network and team up with senior scientists."

The NHSN is holding its Fifth Annual Conference "Drug Abuse and its Health Consequences" September 14-17, 2005, at the Omni Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. The conference will bring together researchers from the U.S., Latin America and other parts of the world to address topics like the link between tobacco use among Hispanics and cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary
disease; the medical use of opiates in pain control, and the development of drug abuse and related problems in Hispanic adolescents. Delivering the keynote address for this year's conference is Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a one of leading scientists in the world in the study of the impact of drug use on the brain.

For more information about NHSN and its Fifth National Conference, please visit http://nhsn.med.miami.edu/default.asp.

About the National Hispanic Science Network
The National Hispanic Science Network on Drug Abuse (NHSN), founded in April 2000, is dedicated to improving the health of Hispanics by 1) increasing the amount and quality of interdisciplinary translational research on drug abuse; and, 2) fostering the development of Hispanic scientists in drug abuse research. NHSN is funded by a contract from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the University of Miami Center for Family Studies.

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