Document Type


Publication Date




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.


This article was originally published in BMC Pediatrics, volume 21, in 2021.


The authors

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.