Disparities Found in Prescription Drug Availability

A University of Michigan study finds racial disparities in the availability of painkillers in Michigan. A previous study found similar disparities among New York pharmacies, the New York Times reported May 11.

For the study, lead author Dr. Carmen Green and her research team surveyed Michigan zip codes that were either more than 70 percent white or more than 70 percent minority. The researchers contacted a random selection of pharmacies in the white areas. All of the pharmacies in the minority zip codes were contacted, since there were so few of them.

The researchers inquired about the availability of 15 medications. For the purposes of the study, a pharmacy was defined as having an adequate supply if one drug in each of three general categories was available.

The study found that 90 percent of pharmacies in white areas met the criteria, compared with 51 percent of pharmacies in minority areas of the state, such as Detroit.

Green found that the response most given for not carrying painkillers was lack of demand, not fear of theft as expected. “That’s interesting,” she said, “when you consider that pain is the major reason patients consult doctors, and the No. 1 reason for disability.”

The study’s findings were announced at a recent meeting of the American Pain Society held in Vancouver, B.C.