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article imageER Doctors Show Racial Bias in Prescribing Painkillers

By David Silverberg     Jan 2, 2008 in Health
Racial minorities are less likely than whites to receive painkillers in U.S. emergency departments, a new study reports. The reasons for the disparity are not clear, but there is enough evidence to warrant change in protocols for pain management.
Digital Journal — Black and Hispanic Americans aren’t being given powerful painkillers as often as white Americans in emergency departments across the country, a groundbreaking study has found. In an overview of 375,000 emergency room visits over 13 years, the study found 31 per cent of whites in pain received opioid drugs, compared to 23 per cent of blacks and 24 per cent of Hispanics.
Opioid drugs are narcotic painkillers available by prescription and are used to treat moderate to severe pain. Despite increasing use of these drugs to handle pain, a gap still exists in dispensing the painkillers.
Mark Pletcher, MD, the lead author of the study, said in a press release: "Studies in the 1990s showed a disturbing racial or ethnic disparity in the use of these potent pain relievers, but we had hoped that the recent national efforts at improving pain management in emergency departments would shrink this disparity. Unfortunately, this is not the case."
Prescribing rates were particularly low for the following ethnic groups: Black and Hispanic children, blacks in county and state hospitals and Asians insured by Medicare.
Pletcher went on to say how there is no difference in the type of pain experienced by whites and nonwhites. “We think our data indicate that opioids are being under-prescribed to minority emergency department patients, especially black and Hispanic patients."
The study was designed to collect data and not offer any reasons behind causality, the authors say. Instead, the study’s conclusions should encourage physicians and nursing staff to better educate themselves on prescribing painkillers to emergency patients. Medical personnel should also learn more about cultural differences in their communities. And finally, the study recommends that patients should advocate for their own pain control.
The study results are published in the Jan. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
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