Unequal treatment for minorities when it comes to pain relief

When it comes to pain relief, African-Americans and other minorities are being treated differently for pain than white patients and are suffering as a result, reports The New York Times.

For instance, Alabama doctors prescribe opioids for pain relief at a higher rate than physicians in other parts of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, according to Medicare payment data, with the exception of a single majority African-American county, African-American patients are being prescribed opioid-based pain relievers at below the state average.

The good news--if there is good news to be gleaned from this under-treatment of pain--is that the opioid epidemic that has led to a dramatic increase in overdose deaths hasn’t had as devastating an impact on the African-American or Hispanic community. But Adam Hirsch, Ph.D., a pain researcher at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, isn’t buying that “silver lining,” according to the Times report.

What can’t be ignored is that African-American and white patients are being treated differently for pain, Hirsch told the newspaper.

He and other researchers often point to false stereotypes--such as the belief that African-Americans are more likely to abuse drugs and the likelihood that physicians are less empathetic towards patients who are of a different race than their own. Even if that bias is likely subconscious, it means that these doctors don’t understand the level of pain their patients suffer, reports The Times.

“We’ve done a good job documenting that these disparities exist,” Salimah Meghani, Ph.D., R.N., a pain researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, told the news outlet. “We have not done a good job doing something about them.”

Her 2012 study revealed that over the course of 20 years, African-Americans were 34 percent less likely to receive prescriptions for opioids for the treatment of backache and abdominal and migraine pain. This racial group was also 14 percent less likely to get prescribed opioid pain relief after suffering a traumatic injury or undergoing surgery.

- read the article
- check out the study