A new study in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds that folks who are not white in the US are less likely to be prescribed strong narcotics by emergency room doctors.
The study entitled, Trends in Opioid Prescribing by Race/Ethnicity for Patients Seeking Care in US Emergency Departments, is based on 150,000 emergency room visits by people complaining of pain in urban and rural areas over 13 years.
The major finding is that if you are white you are most likely to be prescribed strong narcotics for any type of pain. This is also true in cases where folks who are not white complain of severe pain.
The Washington Post says that Linda Simoni-Wastil of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Pharmacy, thinks the racial gap may be explained by the attitude by some doctors who are "suspicious” that patients who are not white are “lying about pain to get narcotics."
Simoni-Wastila says that her research debunks the assumption that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to abuse prescription drugs. She says that Blacks are the least likely to abuse prescription drugs and Hispanics are about on par with whites where opioids and stimulants are concerned.
The Washington Post article points out that:
In the study, opioid narcotics were prescribed in 31 percent of the pain-related visits involving whites, 28 percent for Asians, 24 percent for Hispanics and 23 percent for blacks.
Minorities were slightly more likely than whites to get aspirin, ibuprofen and similar drugs for pain.
In more than 2,000 visits for kidney stones, whites got narcotics 72 percent of the time, Hispanics 68 percent, Asians 67 percent and blacks 56 percent.
A study I used in my course on racism found that Black women and Latinas were less likely than white women to receive epidurals during the birthing process.
Doctors were found to be less likely to use epidurals because they often assumed that Black women and Latinas had a greater pain threshold than white women.
This racist discrepancy in treatment meant that it cost less for Black women and Latinas on health plans to give birth.
The essence of both of these stories underscores the relationship between racism and power.
Racism is not merely prejudice and it does not matter what the color/race of the doctors in either of the study may have been.
What is prominent is that racist suppositions direct the structural manner in which Blacks and Hispanics are under-treated.
This is racism.
(Hat tip to the AngryIndian for leading me to the Washington Post article.)