The protocol in dispensing opioid pain medication does not take into consideration a patient’s ethnic background; this is why the results of studies pointing out a disparity in opioid prescription are quite alarming.

In an analysis of 20 years worth of published data, it was found that black patients were 34 percent less likely to be prescribed with opioid than whites and 14 percent less likely to be given opioids for traumatic injuries and surgery. These numbers support a current trend. More recently, a study published in the JAMA Pediatrics showed that white children were three times more likely to be prescribed opioids for appendicitis compared to blacks. According to the American Pain Society, pharmacies in mostly white neighborhoods were 54 times more likely to be adequately stocked with opioids compared to minority neighborhoods.

Given today’s current epidemic of opioid addiction, it might be easy to say that the minorities are spared because of such disparity, but it does beg the question why is there a difference between races?  Some researchers suggest a theory related to false stereotypes. There is an assumption that blacks are more likely to abuse prescription medications causing physicians to be more conservative in their treatment. Another possible explanation is that there might be an unconscious lack of empathy from doctors in treating patients with a different race from them.  It might also be a question of economics; a substantial number of minorities cannot afford the same medication whites can.

Whichever the case, this is a serious growing concern. Arguing that this is a silver lining by being spared from opioid addiction does not justify under treatment of pain. The medications need to treat pain effectively must be given accordingly to everyone without disparity. There must be immediate action to address the difference in the rates of prescription.

Pain Medicine. Time to Take Stock: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review of Analgesic Treatment Disparities for Pain in the United States

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01310.x/abstract

JAMA Pediatrics. Racial Disparities in Pain Management of Children With Appendicitis in Emergency Departments

http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2441797

America Pain Society. Differences in Prescription Opioid Analgesic Availability:

http://www.med.umich.edu/anes/mpost/pub05/green2005jpain.pdf

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