PAIN DRUGS: Access Difficult in Minority Neighborhoods
Cancer patients and "others with severe pain who live in black, Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods" may have difficulty accessing medicine for their pain, the New York Times reports. According to a survey of 347 pharmacies in New York City's nonwhite neighborhoods, only 25% of pharmacies had enough morphine-like drugs, or opioids, in stock to treat severe pain. But in white neighborhoods, 72% of pharmacies "had adequate supplies." Pharmacists who did not carry the pain medicines "blamed low demand, onerous regulation and fear of theft." But when those factors where calculated into the equation, "opioid availability was still linked to the racial makeup of the neighborhood." Dr. Richard Payne, chief of the pain and palliative care service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found the study's results "quite disturbing." Others, however, said racial bias was "too simple an explanation."
Selig Corman, a pharmacist who is director of professional affairs for the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, explained that the lack of availability of pain killers in certain neighborhoods "was more likely due to low demand for them, because pharmacists cannot afford to stock drugs that people do not buy." In low-income areas, many people lack insurance so a lower volume of sales also might be a cause. Dr. Sean Morrison of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who directed the study, said that he and his colleagues began their research "because they found that many black and Hispanic patients could not have prescriptions filled for opioids at their neighborhood pharmacies." When pharmacists did order the medicine, it would often take "several days or a week for the medicine to arrive." Morrison said, "For severe pain, even a 24-hour delay is unacceptable." Pharmacists' fear of robbery is also a significant factor. "I know some pharmacies who are very anxious about armed robberies, and will have signs saying they don't carry narcotics," Corman said. Asif Noor, a pharmacist interviewed at the Shawn Pharmacy in Queens, N.Y., said he does not carry strong pain drugs because they attract addicts. "People come with fake prescriptions, will start stealing and will finish prescriptions very early and demand refills." He added, "Once you have junkies in the store, then the government starts watching you" (Grady, 4/16).