Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Discrepancies in Opioid Prescriptions Among Older Patients With Cancer.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Minority race and lower socioeconomic status are associated with lower rates of opioid prescription and undertreatment of pain in multiple noncancer healthcare settings. It is not known whether these differences in opioid prescribing exist among patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Methods and materials

This observational cohort study involved 33,872 opioid-naive patients of age > 65 years undergoing definitive cancer treatment. We compared rates of new opioid prescriptions by race or ethnicity and socioeconomic status controlling for differences in baseline patient, cancer, and treatment factors. To evaluate downstream impacts of opioid prescribing and pain management, we also compared rates of persistent opioid use and pain-related emergency department (ED) visits.


Compared with non-Hispanic White patients, the covariate-adjusted odds of receiving an opioid prescription were 24.9% (95% CI, 16.0 to 33.9, P < .001) lower for non-Hispanic Blacks, 115.0% (84.7 to 150.3, P < .001) higher for Asian-Pacific Islanders, and not statistically different for Hispanics (-1.0 to 14.0, P = .06). There was no significant association between race or ethnicity and persistent opioid use or pain-related ED visits. Patients living in a high-poverty area had higher odds (53.9% [25.4 to 88.8, P < .001]) of developing persistent use and having a pain-related ED visit (39.4% [16.4 to 66.9, P < .001]).


For older patients with cancer, rates of opioid prescriptions and pain-related outcomes significantly differed by race and area-level poverty. Non-Hispanic Black patients were associated with a significantly decreased likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription. Patients from high-poverty areas were more likely to develop persistent opioid use and have a pain-related ED visit.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Vitzthum, LK; Nalawade, V; Riviere, P; Sumner, W; Nelson, T; Mell, LK; Furnish, T; Rose, B; Martínez, ME; Murphy, JD

Published Date

  • June 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 17 / 6

Start / End Page

  • e703 - e713

PubMed ID

  • 33534647

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8258011

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2688-1535

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2688-1527

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1200/op.20.00773


  • eng