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Black Americans Were Prescribed Opioids Less Frequently Because Of Racial Bias, New Analysis Shows

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

According to a recent study by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health, Black and Hispanic adults were less likely to be prescribed opioids in the late 1990s, when they first became widely available as a pain treatment. Source

However, by the mid 2000s, prescription opioid use among Black individuals matched that of whites, despite much of the attention and resources of the opioid crisis focusing on white populations. The study also found that Hispanics were less likely to take prescription opioids. Source

The researchers analyzed the use of prescription opioids and other painkillers among 250,596 U.S. adults using data collected by the federal government between 1996 and 2017. They confirmed that prescriptions of opioids and other painkillers differed among Black, Hispanic, and white adults. Source

In 1996, prescription opioid use was highest among whites (11.9%), compared with Blacks (9.3%) and Hispanics (9.6%). At that point, whites were slightly more likely to use opioids than non-opioid painkillers, but Blacks and Hispanics were much more likely to use non-opioid painkillers. Source

The study highlights racial disparities in prescribing new drugs and perhaps even undertreatment, especially for Hispanics who were less likely to take prescription opioids. The findings suggest that people of color were not prescribed opioids with the same frequency as their white counterparts in the late 1990s. Source

While this study doesn’t measure whether these disparities stem from prescribing practices, patient preferences, or another reason, prior research shows that underrepresented racial groups are less likely to be given new prescription medications. Source

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