Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Race & Pain Medications

As part of my day job, I've been thinking a lot about policy efforts to curtail the misuse of prescription opioids.  I've written before about the huge escalation in both prescription rates and overdose deaths.  Current legislative proposals center on efforts to monitor opioid prescriptions in order to identify both patients and doctors who show a lot a prescription opioid use.  Would that these efforts were about insuring that people who need it have access to information about treatment, prevent overdose or how to use opioids safely.  For doctors, it would be nice to think that such monitoring programs would help identify people who need better coordinated care or better pain management.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation about prescription opioids is falling into our old punitive language about addiction and addicts.  And speaking of that language (which has always been highly racialized), how come no one is talking about the racial disparities in pain management?  Communities of color report more pain than other communities but have much less access to the pain medications they need (see for example, Mossey's recent review of the pain management literature).  It seems to me that this absolutely has to be part of the policy conversation about prescription medications.  The last thing we need is to make even harder for people of color to get the pain meds they need.