• Health education;
  • Hispanic/Latino;
  • immigrant;
  • prescription drugs;
  • rural


Background: Little is known about access to medicine among immigrant Latinos in the United States (US). This study explored access to, and use of, prescription drugs obtained from nonmedical sources among recently arrived, Spanish-speaking immigrant Latinos in rural North Carolina (NC).

Methods: Our community-based participatory research partnership collected, analyzed, and interpreted data from individual in-depth interviews with Latino community members and rural health service providers. A purposive sample of 30 community members, including traditional healers, religious leaders, transgender Latinos, heterosexual Latino men and women, and Latino gay men, were interviewed to gain emic (“insider”) perspectives on use of nonmedical sources of prescription drugs. Six local Latino health service providers also were interviewed to gain etic (“outsider”) perspectives on use.

Results: Participants described the roles of tiendas (grocers), family, and social networks in accessing treatment advice and prescription drugs. They described health care expectations among immigrants and contingencies for accessing prescription drugs in the US. Prescription medicines (eg, antibiotics, hormones, Viagra, analgesics), injection equipment (eg, syringes), and medical advice were identified as readily available from nonmedical sources.

Conclusions: Increased access to formalized health care and effective health education initiatives are needed to meet the challenges facing immigrant Latinos.