People of color denied pain medication across the U.S.

Imagine being in pain, serious pain that debilitates you in your day-to-day life. Once you finally get in to see a doctor, you are asked on a scale of 1 to 10 to rate your pain, 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt. You flat out know this pain is a 10, yet you are sent away from the doctor with no pain medication and no real remedy for the source of your pain—even if you had to sacrifice paying your electric and water bill to afford the visit.

Many people of color are being denied pain medication based on bigoted beliefs and stereotypes that they are addicts, drug hustlers or don’t feel pain as acutely as whites. Studies have shown that people of color receive less treatment for pain than the broader population of people in the U.S.

A recent national study found that emergency room doctors are prescribing strong narcotics more often to patients, but people of color are still less likely to get them. The AP reports: “Even for the severe pain of kidney stones, minorities were prescribed narcotics such as oxycodone and morphine less frequently than whites.

“The analysis of more than 150,000 emergency room visits over 13 years found differences in prescribing by race and ethnicity in both urban and rural hospitals, in all U.S. regions and for every type of pain. … 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.” (Jan. 2)

In a 2005 article on racial disparities in pain treatment, the Detroit News profiled Donald Dillard, an African-American worker who survived having a dump truck roll over his body. His pelvis and thighs were crushed and a large chunk of flesh was cut from his torso.

Dillard had endured 15 years of excruciating pain, unable to get pain medications strong enough to give him even the slightest respite. He had also found getting workers compensation and medical care to be extremely difficult. “It’s really depressing when you know there are things out there that can help you, and you can’t get them,” Dillard said. (Feb. 20, 2005)

The article reported that a national study found that at cancer centers with primarily Latin@ and African-American patients, 62 percent of patients received inadequate pain treatment, compared to 42 percent receiving inadequate pain treatment nationwide. A survey found that African-American cancer patients in nursing homes were 63 percent more likely than whites to receive no pain treatment.

In addition, pharmacies in poor communities of color are less likely to carry strong pain medications, the Detroit News reported.

A 2002 federal study found that even when income, insurance and diagnoses are the same, people of color in general receive lower-quality health care than whites. (Detroit News, Feb. 20, 2005)

The ugly truth stands that people of color are not only denied health care and proper treatment, but also the drugs they need to heal and become well again. This is the result of not only a classist and racist society, but the reflection of the racism passed down from the medical schools to generation after generation of medical students.

Meanwhile, people in socialist Cuba—regardless of their race, gender or sexuality—are, at no cost, provided with the best health care the country is able to provide for its people.


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