Blacks, women experience pain medication disparities, study finds

Blacks are prescribed fewer pain medications and women receive weaker dosages of chronic pain meds, concludes a study published in the August issue of Journal of Pain.

Changes to such disparities must begin in primary care, said researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, who studied 200 patients who sought aid from a specialty pain center.

"Most patients first seek help for pain from their primary-care doctor," said the study's lead author, Carmen R. Green, M.D. "If we are to reduce or eliminate disparities in pain care, we have to support successful primary care interventions."

Before referral to the special pain center, black patients were prescribed 1.8 medications, compared to 2.6 among whites, the study found. The gender disparity was worse, with only 21 percent of women taking opioids strong enough to manage their chronic pain, compared with 30 percent of men taking strong medicine.

"Men and women differed on a single item--the notion, primarily among women, to save medication in case pain gets worse," Green said. "Blacks also more strongly endorsed that it was easier to put up with pain than the side effects of medication."

Inadequate pain care poses a major problem to public health, as pain can inhibit the ability to work or care for families, noted the study's authors.

For more:
- read the U-M Health System press release