Racial disparity in analgesic treatment for ED patients with abdominal or back pain

Am J Emerg Med. 2011 Sep;29(7):752-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.02.023. Epub 2010 May 1.


Objective: Research on how race affects access to analgesia in the emergency department (ED) has yielded conflicting results. We assessed whether patient race affects analgesia administration for patients presenting with back or abdominal pain.

Methods: This is a retrospective cohort study of adults who presented to 2 urban EDs with back or abdominal pain for a 4-year period. To assess differences in analgesia administration and time to analgesia between races, Fisher exact and Wilcoxon rank sum test were used, respectively. Relative risk regression was used to adjust for potential confounders.

Results: Of 20,125 patients included (mean age, 42 years; 64% female; 75% black; mean pain score, 7.5), 6218 (31%) had back pain and 13,907 (69%) abdominal pain. Overall, 12,109 patients (60%) received any analgesia and 8475 (42%) received opiates. Comparing nonwhite (77 %) to white patients (23%), nonwhites were more likely to report severe pain (pain score, 9-10) (42% vs 36%; P < .0001) yet less likely to receive any analgesia (59% vs 66%; P < .0001) and less likely to receive an opiate (39% vs 51%; P < .0001). After controlling for age, sex, presenting complaint, triage class, admission, and severe pain, white patients were still 10% more likely to receive opiates (relative risk, 1.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-1.13). Of patients who received analgesia, nonwhites waited longer for opiate analgesia (median time, 98 vs 90 minutes; P = .004).

Conclusions: After controlling for potential confounders, nonwhite patients who presented to the ED for abdominal or back pain were less likely than whites to receive analgesia and waited longer for their opiate medication.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / drug therapy*
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Back Pain / drug therapy*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Continental Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Philadelphia
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid