Feb. 12 (UPI) -- White people living in California, particularly in poor communities, are more likely than other groups in the state receive opioids prescriptions, a new study says.
Between 2011 and 2015, zip codes with predominately white populations received opioid prescriptions at twice the rate of people in zip codes that weren't predominately white, according to findings published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
California residents in predominately white zip codes were also about three times as likely to receive prescriptions for controlled substances like anxiety-reducing benzodiazepines and stimulants to treat attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder, the researchers say.
Much of the reason for the disparity in opioid prescriptions between white people and other groups could result from an implicit bias toward people of color, especially black people, researchers say.
One 2016 study showed a group of white medical students believed stereotypes about black people, such as black people having less sensitive nerve endings than white people -- stereotypes that continue to persist.
"Medicine has a long, unsavory history of expecting people of color to tolerate larger levels of pain," Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who was not involved in the new study, told the Los Angeles Times. "For the opioid epidemic it had a silver lining, but the discrimination is fatal when the denied treatment is lifesaving, such as cancer screening. This is why African Americans have higher mortality rates from cancer -- they are less likely to get screened, their cancers are more likely to grow before being detected, and survival rates once diagnosed are often shorter."
Granted, the number of black people dying from opioid overdoses has risen by 56 percent between 2016 and 2017 -- the biggest jump in any racial group.
Health professionals attribute the increase to how cheap heroin and fentanyl have become over the last few years.
In 2016, California had 2,012 opioid-related overdose deaths at a rate of 4.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. That compared to the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
"California represented an apt location to study this topic because its wide range of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity enabled us to study a more complete picture of the social dynamics of opioid prescription. Furthermore, given its large population size, California represents a sizable share of total prescribing in the United States," the study reads.