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Study Finds Poor and Minority Patients Less Likely to be Prescribed Opioids

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Patients in pain who are poor, black, or Hispanic are less likely to be given opioids in the emergency room, compared with wealthier white patients, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry evaluated data from about 1,400 hospital emergency rooms between 2006 and 2009. During that time, the emergency rooms prescribed opioids to more than 50,000 people who reported being in moderate to severe pain. The study found 46 percent of white patients were given opioids, compared with 39 percent of black patients. In addition, 45 percent of non-Hispanic patients received opioids, compared with 40 percent of Hispanics.

The study found 47 percent of patients from the wealthiest neighborhoods received opioids, compared with 41 percent of those from the poorest neighborhoods.

The findings are published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“The disparities are concerning and definitely warrant further investigation,” lead researcher Dr. Michael Joynt told Reuters. He added that there is probably not “any one single factor” that explains those disparities.

In a university news release, the researchers said the results point to a need for a national discussion to increase awareness and to provide consistent and unbiased treatments.

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