Blacks Discriminated Against When Needing ER Narcotics

Posted on Jan 03, 2008
The story reads like its from a mid-1960s Birmingham newspaper. in Washington says a report in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) reports blacks are less likely than whites to receive narcotics for pain in U.S. emergency rooms. Even for the severe pain of kidney stones, minorities were prescribed narcotics such as oxycodone and morphine less frequently than whites, the JAMA report shows.

An analysis of more than 150,000 emergency room visits over 13 years found differences in prescribing narcotic drugs by race and ethnicity in urban and rural hospitals for every type of pain, JAMA reports.

E.R. Narcotic Prescriptions Increase but Not for Minorities

Prescribing pain narcotics in the ER rose during the study, from 23 percent of those complaining of pain in 1993 to 37 percent in 2005. Even with the increase, the racial gap persists. Linda Simoni-Wastila of the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Pharmacy said the race gap may reveal doctors' suspicions that minority patients could be drug abusers lying about pain to get narcotics. However, blacks are the least-likely group to abuse prescription drugs, according to research. Hispanics are as likely as whites to abuse prescription synthetic pain relievers and stimulants.

In 2,000 visits for kidney stones, whites received narcotics 72 percent of the time, Hispanics 68 percent, Asians 67 percent and blacks 56 percent, according to a government survey that collects statistics on ER visits for four weeks a year from 500 U.S. hospitals.

”It's time to move past describing disparities and work on narrowing them," said Dr. Thomas L. Fisher, an emergency room doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Fisher, who is black, said he is not immune to subconscious assumptions that may inappropriately influence his work.

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