Racism and the opioid “epidemic”


It’s not news that the medical complex discriminates against people of color in a variety of ways, including when it comes to treating pain. But what’s the connection between this well-documented phenomenon and the much-hyped “opioid epidemic,” which has disproportionately affected white America?

Adam Hirsh, a pain researcher at Indiana University-Purdue University, says that when people are confronted with data on black people getting less pain treatment that whites, they often offer a “silver-lining argument: that even if blacks have been unequally treated for pain, they have largely been spared from opioid addiction.”

In 2014, according to the article in The New York Times, “71 out of every million white Americans died of overdoses involving prescription opioids, compared with 33 out of every million blacks.”

But that argument doesn’t sit well with Hirsch, nor should it with anyone…

Hirsch and other researchers quoted in the piece say the pain-treatment discrepancy is more likely due to racial discrimination by white doctors. Not only are white doctors more likely to stereotype black patients as people who are using drugs problematically, they say, but they are also less likely to empathize with patients of a different race, and likelier to underestimate the severity of their pain. Only about 4 percent of practicing physicians in the US are black.

Another disturbing recent study from the University of Virginia found that fully half of white med students and residents believed at least one of a set of inaccurate and at times “fantastical” statements about differences between black and white people. The statements included the idea that “blacks have less sensitive nerve endings than whites or that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly.” …


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