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Study suggests 'persistent reliance on opioids across all racial/ethnic groups'

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HealthDay News
A new study indicates the gap for opioid prescription rates between black and white Americans has narrowed. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture
A new study indicates the gap for opioid prescription rates between black and white Americans has narrowed. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

SATURDAY, May 5, 2018 -- Black Americans are no longer less likely than whites to be prescribed opioid painkillers -- but that means their risk of addiction to the narcotics has increased, researchers say.

"To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of a potential narrowing of the divide in opioid prescribing by race and ethnicity," study lead author Matthew Davis said in a University of Michigan news release. Davis is an assistant professor of nursing at the school.

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Previously, doctors were more willing to prescribe opioid medications to whites than to other racial/ethnic groups. The researchers behind the new study wanted to examine how that was affected by new national policies to improve prescribing practices.

They analyzed 2000-2015 national prescription data on people with moderate to severe non-cancer pain.

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In 2015, the rates of opioid prescriptions were 23 percent for both blacks and whites. This suggests that doctors no longer discriminate against blacks when prescribing narcotics for pain relief, the researchers said.

But they added that blacks now face an increased risk of addiction through exposure to the prescription drugs.

It's long been believed that the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic affects more whites than blacks or Latinos, according to the study authors.

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"Our findings suggest, however, a persistent reliance on opioids across all racial/ethnic groups," said study first author Jordan Harrison, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

"More work is needed to examine the complex interaction of patient and provider factors that influence opioid prescribing practices," added Harrison.

Why more blacks are using prescription opioids wasn't addressed in the study, but the change could reflect gains in public insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the researchers suggested.

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The study appeared in the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on opioid painkillers.

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