Racial Disparities In Emergency Department Pain Relief Prescriptions

Armen Hareyan's picture

Pain ReliefPrescriptions


Emergency department physicians are prescribing more narcotics topatients who say they have pain, but minority patients are less likelythan whites to receive such drugs, according to a study published onWednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. The government-funded study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco,used data from a federal survey to analyze more than 150,000 ED visitsfor all types of pain at 500 city and rural U.S. hospitals from 1993 to2005.

According to the study, narcotic prescriptions by EDphysicians increased from 23% in 1993 to 37% in 2005. The study foundthat opioid narcotics were prescribed in 31% of pain-related visitsinvolving whites, 28% involving Asians, 24% involving Hispanics and 23%involving blacks. In addition, the study found that in more than 2,000visits for kidney stones, whites received narcotics 72% of the time,Hispanic patients received the drugs 68% of the time, and Asian andblack patients received the drugs 67% and 56% of the time,respectively. Minorities were slightly more likely than whites toreceive aspirin, ibuprofen and similar pain medications, according tothe study. The study found racial disparities in ED narcoticprescriptions in both urban and rural hospitals.

Study co-authorMark Pletcher said that the "gaps between whites and nonwhites have notappeared to close at all." According to the study's authors, physiciansmight be less likely to see signs of pain medication abuse among whitepatients or might be undertreating pain in minorities. Pletcher saidthat patient behavior also might play a role, adding that minorities"may be less likely to keep complaining about their pain or feel theydeserve good pain control" (Johnson, AP/Houston Chronicle, 1/2).

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