Only half of the pharmacies in non-white areas that were surveyed by a University of Michigan team had even a scant supply of the kinds of drugs used to treat severe chronic pain, such as back and joint aches. That's much lower than the percentage of pharmacies in mostly white areas, where more than 90 percent of pharmacies had the drugs in stock.
Overall, retail chain pharmacies were less likely than independent pharmacies to carry a sufficient stock of the drugs, known as opioid painkillers. And pharmacies in wealthier ZIP codes of any racial makeup tended to have a better supply.
The study, conducted by a pain research team from the U-M Health System, will be presented here on May 7 at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.
While the researchers didn't delve deeply into the reasons behind the discrepancies they found, previous research has suggested that pharmacies in poorer or higher-crime areas do not stock opioid drugs because of the real or perceived threat of robbery. In addition to their medically useful painkilling properties, many of the drugs have a street value.
The new results echo findings from New York City that were published by a Columbia University team several years ago. But the U-M authors note that their survey covered an entire state, and looked at more drugs: a total of 15, in three categories. If a pharmacy had even one bottle of one drug from each category, it was considered to have an adequate supply.
Half of the pharmacies were in ZIP codes whose population was more than 70 percent non-white, and the other half were randomly sampled from ZIP codes around the state whose populations were more than 70 percent white.