The research, by Augustine J. Kposowa, a sociology professor, is in the latest edition of "Race & Society," the journal of the Association of Black Sociologists, published by Elsevior.
In "Searching for Relief: Racial Differences in Treatment of Patients with Back Pain," Kposowa and co-author Glenn T. Tsunokai of Western Washington University in Bellingham broke down data from the U.S. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1995 through 1998. They found African-American and Hispanic outpatients complaining of back pain were "considerably less likely" than whites to receive painkillers at hospitals and in emergency rooms throughout the United States.
The study contends that prejudice and racial stereotyping among physicians is the most plausible explanation for racial differences in pain treatment. It notes that there was no significant difference among the races in the numbers of referrals for X-rays, MRI tests and CT scans.
Early studies have explained the variations in pain treatment across racial and ethnic lines as a function of differing levels of medical coverage, the authors say in the introduction to the 30-page paper. Later studies, including this one, have taken that and other financial factors into account and still find deep differences.
The study focused on three variables: whether patients were advised to take any pain-relief medication; whether prescription drugs were ordered; and how many medications were prescribed. Results were given for Hispanics, African-Americans, whites and Asians across several age groups.
African-American men were least likely to get prescriptions, the study indicates, followed by Hispanic men. African-American men also were least likely to be advised to take over-the-counter pain relievers.