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Racial disparities in outcomes are still commonplace in the United States, and one way this is apparent is the differences in how African-Americans receive medication for opioid addiction treatment. In recent years, the opioid crisis has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. Oftentimes, those impacted by opioids are portrayed as white, middle class Americans who receive treatment upon enduring non-fatal overdoses. According to PBS, “roughly 80% of American’s opioid overdose victims are white.” This means that people of color make up a full 20% of opioid overdose victims. Despite this, much of the attention is on and continues to be on white victims of the crisis.
Between 2012 and 2015, the national overdose death rates were high, and emergency visits increased. It was here doctors and nurses prescribed Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, which reduces carvings for heroin, fentanyl and other opioids. When records were examined, there was no indication that African-Americans struggling with opioid abuse and withdrawal received an increase of prescription meds. In short, a large number of African Americans suffering from opioid use disorders did not receive the treatment needed.
Studies found Caucasians were 35 times more likely to visit hospitals for buprenorphine compared to African-American counterparts. Some of the commonly cited reasons include accessibility and insurance. For example, if a person of color does not have insurance and cannot financially pay for meds out of pocket, it will be challenging to attend hospitals for treatment. Surveys showed the majority of white patients paid cash or used insurance; only 25% of visits were covered by Medicaid or Medicare. The lack of options for people from a lower socio-economic status means that they can find trouble getting the meds they need.
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Aside from the financial element of treatment, some doctors project mistrust onto African-American patients when treating them. Surveys revealed discrimination toward African-Americans based on race, financial status, and other factors. Racial stereotypes have been another factor in the decision to treat patients.
Some doctors believe black people have an ability to be strong and tough out painful conditions, and therefore do not give them the meds they need. Reports noted doctors not trusting black patients to take the meds properly. Other doctors have believed the patients will sell the drugs.
A 2017 report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality stated “Overall access to efficient health care was worse for blacks than whites.” Additionally, “20% of Asian Americans, 30% of Native Americans, and a third of Pacific Islanders and Hispanics have access to effective healthcare.”
Physicians have become aware of the disparities in racial outcomes of treatment of Opioid addiction. One theory is that data expressing gaps in medications date back to the year 2000. Upon its approval, buprenorphine was only approved for youths from the suburbs. It was also approved in private-office treatments, rather than public ones. Either way, this does not account for the lack of care African Americans received for treating their opioid-related illnesses, and the approval of suburban care excludes member of other communities just as worthy of treatment.
With the widespread coverage and call for treating the opioid crisis, many are hoping all patients can receive the care needed for recovery. Others are proposing “expanded access to addiction treatment in black communities,” increased funding, and supporting minority-based substance abuse programs.
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