According to a UCLA study , physicians prescribed opioids more often to their white patients complaining of new-onset low back pain than to their black, Asian, and Hispanic patients.
The study shows that doctors were more likely to prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, a less powerful alternative, to their patients of color who came to them for back pain treatment. The study also found that white patients with new low back pain were subsequently more likely to develop long-term dependence on opioids. Ironically, one possible reason for these prescribing discrepancies is that physicians may have been less confident that patients of color would not abuse opioids .
The study examined nationwide medical claims data from 2006 to 2015 for approximately 275,000 Medicare beneficiaries who were 66 years of age or older and experiencing new-onset low back pain. Approximately 81% of these patients were white, 6% were black, 6% were Asian or Pacific Islander, and 8% were Hispanic .
Focusing on how physicians prescribed opioids differently based on the race and ethnicity of their patients, it was found that, on average, these drugs were administered to 11.5% of white patients, compared with approximately 10% of those Black patients, 9% of Asian / Pacific Islander patients, and 10.5% of Hispanic patients.
Among patients who appeared to have severe or prolonged pain, measured as five or more visits to the doctor for back pain in a year, the differences were more marked: 36% of white patients were prescribed opioids, compared with approximately 30% of Black patients, 21% of Asian / Pacific Islanders, and 24% of Hispanics. Doctors also tended to prescribe opioids earlier for their white patients .
In contrast, physicians prescribed NSAIDs to 25% of their black patients, 25% of Asian / Pacific Islanders, and 28% of Hispanics, but only 24% of whites, again, with larger differences for those. patients with more visits for back pain.