Pharmacies in Minority Areas Understocked on Painkillers, Study Finds
Pharmacies in majority black neighborhoods are less likely to maintain adequate supplies of opioid painkillers than majority white neighborhoods, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Pain, the Washington Post reports. After surveying 188 Michigan pharmacies, researchers found that 87% of pharmacies in majority white ZIP codes had sufficient supplies of painkillers, while 54% of pharmacies in ZIP codes where a majority of residents were minorities maintained adequate supplies. The researchers also found that high-income black neighborhoods were just as likely to have insufficient supplies as low-income black neighborhoods.
However, pharmacies in high-income white neighborhoods were more likely to carry adequate supplies compared with low-income white communities. In addition, researchers found that 91% of independent pharmacies had sufficient supplies of painkillers and that 59% of chain stores had adequate supplies. According to the Post, researchers concluded from the results that minorities are "routinely undertreated for chronic pain." Researchers hypothesized that the lower availability in minority neighborhoods stems from concern about illicit use and potential consequences for pharmacists.
Lead researcher Carmen Green, associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, said, "The pharmacies in minority areas generally say they stock limited amounts of pain medication because the demand is not there." Green added, "[T]he low-demand barrier does not ring true for me. We know that minorities are more at risk of suffering chronic pain, and maybe they don't come to local pharmacies because they've come to expect they won't carry the medicines they need." Susan Winkler, vice president for policy for the American Pharmaceutical Association, said patient demand determines pharmacy stocks but added that paperwork and Drug Enforcement Agency oversight related to narcotic painkillers also contribute to pharmacy inventory decisions (Kaufman, Washington Post, 10/14).