Black patients prescribed fewer opioids than white patients at the same hospitals, study shows

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White patients were prescribed more opioids to treat their pain than Black patients receiving care at the same health system, according to a study published July 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study examined 2016 and 2017 Medicare claims data from a random sample of fee-for-service beneficiaries who were either Black or white, with their ages ranging from 18 to 64. Researchers analyzed data on more than 600,000 Medicare patients across 310 health systems.

Of those 310 health systems, 90 percent prescribe more opioids to white patients than Black patients. On average, white patients received 36 percent more opioid prescriptions by dosage than Black patients.

This disparity remained true when researchers examined data on patients who were seen by the same clinicians.

The researchers said racially biased beliefs, such as the false notion that Black patients have higher pain tolerances, could be prompting this trend, though more research is needed to determine the root cause(s) of the disparity.

"The findings should prompt systems to explore the causes and consequences of these biased patterns and to develop and test efforts to eliminate the influence of race on the receipt of pain treatment," they wrote.

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