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Racial and ethnic disparities in opioid use for adolescents at US emergency departments.



Racial/ethnic disparities in the use of opioids to treat pain disorders have been previously reported in the emergency department (ED). Further research is needed to better evaluate the impact race/ethnicity may have on the use of opioids in adolescents for the management of pain disorders in the ED.


This was a cross-sectional study using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2006 to 2016. Multivariate models were used to evaluate the role of race/ethnicity in the receipt of opioid agonists while in the ED. All ED visits with patients aged 11-21 years old were analyzed. Races/ethnicities were stratified as non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, and Hispanics. In addition to race, statistical analysis included the following covariates: pain score, pain diagnosis, age, region, sex, and payment method.


There was a weighted total of 189,256,419 ED visits. Those visits involved 109,826,315 (58%) non-Hispanic Whites, 46,314,977 (24%) non-Hispanic Blacks, and 33,115,127 (18%) Hispanics, with 21.6% (95% CI, 21.1%-22.1), 15.2% (95% CI, 14.6-15.9%), and 17.4% (95% CI, 16.5-18.2%) of those visits reporting use of opioids, respectively. Regardless of age, sex, and region, non-Hispanic Whites received opioids at a higher rate than non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics. Based on diagnosis, non-Hispanic Whites received opioids at a higher rate in multiple pain diagnoses. Additionally, non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to receive an opioid when reporting moderate pain (aOR = 0.738, 95% CI 0.601-0.906, aOR = 0.739, 95% CI 0.578-0.945, respectively) and severe pain (aOR = 0.580, 95% CI 0.500-0.672, aOR = 0.807, 95% CI 0.685-0.951, respectively) compared to non-Hispanic Whites.


Differences in the receipt of opioid agonists in EDs among the races/ethnicities exist, with more non-Hispanic Whites receiving opioids than their minority counterparts. Non-Hispanic Black women may be an especially marginalized population. Further investigation into sex-based and regional differences are needed.

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