Getting Pain Meds Can Be Difficult— If You're Black

Study finds disparity in how they're doled out
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2016 5:45 PM CDT
Getting Pain Meds Can Be Difficult— If You're Black
A file photo of OxyContin pills.   (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

(Newser) – White people are roughly twice as likely to die from prescription painkillers as black people in the US; now a new study finds that they're also twice as likely to be prescribed them. It's just the latest finding to show that minorities are treated differently when it comes to pain management, reports the New York Times. "We’ve done a good job documenting that these disparities exist," says pain researcher Salimah Meghani at the University of Pennsylvania. "We have not done a good job doing something about them." Specifically, the researchers report in the journal Plos One that, based on 60 million records of pain-related adult emergency department visits between 2007 and 2011, blacks with conditions that are not easily diagnosed—i.e. back and abdominal pain—were half as likely to be prescribed opioids compared to whites with the same woes.

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Study authors add that when conditions are definitive, such as bone fractures and kidney stones, the disparity went away. One ethicist says this is because black people are too often seen as "drug seekers and overall exaggerators." The researchers say there are "important implications for medical provider education" to help them overcome biases. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that exacerbating the disparity is that only 4% of physicians in the US are black, and that there were fewer black men in med school in 2014 than in 1978. "If you don’t have that culture of diversity in your training and in your development, when will you get it?" one advocate asks. Not, he suggests, "until someone sues you." (This former addict says he was prescribed opioids way too easily.)

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