Poorer patients and minorities are less likely to be prescribed opioids in emergency departments than wealthier white patients, according the results of a study published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The study examined the relationship between patients’ neighborhood, socioeconomic status, and racial identity and the frequency of opioid prescriptions for moderate to severe pain in emergency departments. Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the researchers identified more than 50,000 patients who were prescribed opioids during emergency department visits between 2006 and 2009. Patients’ socioeconomic status was evaluated based on their home zip code.
Patients within the highest quartile of socioeconomic status were more likely to receive opioids than patients within the lowest quartile. Just under half of patients from zip codes with the lowest poverty rates were prescribed opioids, compared with 39% of patients from areas with the highest poverty rates. In addition, 46% of white patients were prescribed painkillers, compared with just 39% of African American patients, and 40% of Hispanic patients received opioids, compared with 45% of non-Hispanic patients. The results indicated that patients’ race played an important role in prescription patterns even after accounting for differences in socioeconomic status.