Clinical Review

Racial Differences in Adherence to Prescribed Analgesia in Cancer Patients: An Integrated Review of Quantitative Research



Side Effects

In a pilot study that explored the intricacies of adherence, some individuals felt it was easier to deal with pain than with the side effects of pain medications. These individuals were also more likely to report forgetfulness and to stop taking medications if feeling “worse” [15]. One study, which included African-American and white cohorts, found that an increase in the severity of side effects was associated with lower adherence to analgesia for African Americans but not whites. Furthermore, African Americans reported a greater number of analgesic side effects at baseline. African Americans were also more likely to make analgesic decisions based on side effects in comparison to whites participants, who made decisions based on expectation of pain relief [13]. In a study with exclusively African-American patients, patients with concerns about pain medication possibly causing confusion were more likely to have poor adherence [4].

Type of Analgesic Prescribed

In the analyses, 3 studies found a difference between analgesic prescriptions among ethnic groups [12,13,16], 3 found that there was a statistical significance between type of prescription and adherence [4,13,16], and 2 studies [3,14] found no statistical correlation between type of analgesic prescribed and adherence.

In a study of African Americans and Hispanics, both groups took analgesics on an “as-needed” basis despite the guidelines for cancer pain management [16]. However, African Americans reported taking analgesics less than twice daily. Overall, only a small percentage of patients took sustained-release analgesics that require fewer doses per day [16]. Similarly, in another study that compared adherence between African Americans and whites, the overall analgesic adherence rate was different on sub-analysis for specific analgesic prescriptions. The analgesic adherence rates for African Americans ranged from 34% for weak opioids to 63% for long-acting opioids. In comparison, the analgesic adherence rates for whites ranged from 55% for weak opioids to 78% for long-acting opioids [13]. In conclusion, patients on long-acting opioids were more likely to have higher adherence. Adherence rates for African Americans were found in another study. The adherence rate for adjuvant analgesics was highest at 65%, step 2 opioids at 44% and step 3 opioids at 43% [4].

In a study with exclusively African-American patients, poor adherence was significantly correlated with step 3 opioids [4]. Another study that explored the correlation between type of analgesic and adherence found that intentional nonadherence was less likely in individuals that were prescribed step 3 opioids [15]. Specifically, individuals with this behavior were also more likely to report lower pain levels and chose to stop the use of analgesics when feeling better [15].

Within a pilot study that compared benefit programs and payor groups, the differences in the prescription of long-acting opiates did not reach statistical significance [3]. However, in the larger, definitive study, the comparison revealed that patients in the self-pay/charity care group were less likely to receive a prescription for long-acting opiates. The data further revealed that Hispanic and Asian patients were prescribed long-acting opiates at a lower rate compared to the larger sample. Further, African Americans and Caucasians were prescribed long-acting opiates at a higher rate than the larger sample. In another analysis, with benefits and race/ethnicity, benefits were the only statistically significant predictor. While statistically controlling for race/ethnicity, Medicaid patients were 2.4 times more likely to receive a prescription for long-acting opioids than the self-pay/charity care patients [14].


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