ALBUQUERQUE"Ethnicity is a relatively understudied concept in pain medicine," David B. Morris, PhD, writes in his review of ethnicity and pain (Pain Clinical Updates vol. IX, no. 4, November 2001). Existing research, he said, has provided "few firm generalizations" about the relationship between ethnicity and pain. This is due, in part, to the fact that both pain and ethnicity are "multidimensional, malleable, and shaped by culture."
Some studies suggest that minorities are less likely to receive adequate treatment for pain. Dr. Morris pointed to a US study that found no differences in the amount of opioid self-administered for acute pain among different ethnic groups, but significant differences in the amount of opioid prescribed.
Even when the prescription is adequate, he noted, "ethnic groups face inequalities that translate into poorly controlled pain." For example, pharmacies in poor, nonwhite neighborhoods may not stock adequate supplies of opioids.
Finally, Dr. Morris emphasized that although there may be measurable differences in how different ethnic groups experience pain, there are also "deep similarities." Studies of specific conditions, from cancer to childbirth, have found "major similarities among various ethnocultural groups in pain perception and response," he said.