Racism cited in pain treatment

By David Briscoe
Associated Press

Black people suffer more chronic pain than whites because they are less likely to get effective treatment, a group of black doctors meeting in Honolulu said yesterday.

"Don't give Demerol to the black boy because they're all addicts. He's a black boy so he can handle more pain. These are the prejudices that enter in," said Dr. Lucille Perez, president of the National Medical Association, representing 25,000 black doctors.

Perez, in an interview, said inadequate pain management for minorities is a national public health problem that affects millions of Americans. She spoke following the unveiling of conclusions from a panel of doctors and other medical professionals that discussed minority pain management in Washington last month.

The conclusions follow reports by the federal Insatiate of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that racial and ethnic minorities get worse health care than whites. The institute study covered a broad range of medical treatments, including heart bypass and cancer surgery and pain management.

The NMA, which is holding its annual conference in Waikiki this week, has long maintained that racism is a major problem in medical care. Perez said poor pain management has a spiraling effect, often leading to depression and other serious medical problems.

"We are finding that African Americans in excruciating pain due to life-threatening illness or major surgery, are denied effective pain medicine, due to factors which ultimately center on race," she said.

The association is studying the significance of chronic pain to the health of all Americans, focusing on disparities in treatment based on race. A final report is due in March 2003.

Prolonged pain costs Americans $100 billion a year and causes more disability than cancer and heart disease combined, the NMA panel said.

Doctors often are fearful of prescribing certain proven medications to minorities because of concerns about drug abuse, it said, and pharmacies often engage in racial profiling in determining what medications to have available in urban areas.

Pharmacies, doctors and other medical professionals need to be educated, Perez said.

"The problem goes across the board."

Inadequate treatment of pain often leads patients to seek other remedies, including illegal drugs, she said.

The NMA recommended that physicians prescribing strong pain medication contact pharmacists directly to reduce concerns over possible fraud or illegal use of drugs.

It also urged more educational measures and full doctor compliance with state and federal regulations governing pain-relief medications to ensure that they are not misused.

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