Black Americans are less likely to be prescribed painkillers – why?

Studies shows that black patients with back or abdominal pain are less likely to be given opioid drugs in the US. Can doctors’ ‘unconscious biases’ be tackled? We know that pain thresholds vary from person to person – one person’s nudging inconvenience is another’s unbearable distraction – but the colour of your skin, in the US at least, can be a factor in deciding whether or not you receive pain medication.

New research from the US shows that black patients who arrive at emergency rooms complaining of back or abdominal pain are significantly less likely to be given opioid painkillers, such as codeine, than their white counterparts, even when pain levels and insurance coverage are the same. Pain is the most common reason Americans visit the ER, and the researchers in Boston looked at five years’ worth of records across the country for patients who had complained of general pain with an unclear cause.