According to a recent study, Black kids are less likely to receive any type of pain medication than their white counterparts. Whether it is something as simple as getting Tylenol for a headache, all the way up to receiving opioids for a major injury. “Black patients with moderate pain were less likely to receive any analgesia, and black patients with severe pain were less likely to be treated with opioids,” Dr. Monika Goyal of the Children’s National Health System in Washington and colleagues wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics. NBC News reported: What’s to blame? Probably a combination of an unwarranted fear of opioids such as morphine and fentanyl, combined with unconscious bias against African-American kids, experts said.
The researchers used national survey data from 2003 to 2010, covering more than 900,000 children with acute appendicitis. They thought studying appendicitis would be a good starting point since there’s broad agreement among experts that it’s a condition that merits pain relief. Only 57 percent of the kids got anything for their pain in the emergency department, they found, and only 41 percent got an opioid drug. And just 12 percent of black children got an opioid drug for pain. Why is it that the non-black children received pain killers 41% of the time, yet their black counterparts only received those same drugs only 12% of the time for the same ailments? The study authors touched on the fact that it could be an underlying bias against blacks. If this is that case, what is the root of this systematic racism in the medical field?
NBC News continued with: “Our findings suggest that there are racial disparities in opioid administration to children with appendicitis,” Goyal’s team wrote. “Our findings suggest that although clinicians may recognize pain equally across racial groups, they may be reacting to the pain differently by treating black patients with nonopioid analgesia, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, while treating white patients with opioid analgesia for similar pain.” The researchers note that painkillers, including opioids, are strongly recommended for appendicitis. There were fears in the past that giving painkillers would mask symptoms important for diagnosing the causes of abdominal pain, but those fears have long been shown to be unfounded. There’s also a fear of giving opioids to children. It’s possible to overdose and to have dependence develop. But the whole point of opioids is to control severe pain like that seen in appendicitis, and there are protocols for making sure children don’t overdose and don’t become dependent. “We are left with the notion that subtle biases, implicit and explicit, conscious and unconscious, influence the clinician’s judgment,” said Dr. Monika Goyal. If Dr. Goyal and her team are right, what can be done about this? Everyone, regardless of color, creed, religion, sexual preference or gender deserves fair and equal treatment. Have you ever felt you did not receive adequate medical treatment or medication due to racism? Leave your stories or overall comments below.