Literature Review

Minorities with epilepsy blocked from receiving ‘highest quality of care’



People of color with epilepsy, including Black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander patients, are significantly less likely to be prescribed the latest antiseizure medications (ASMs), compared with their White counterparts, new research shows.

Even after controlling for epilepsy severity, comorbid conditions, and other factors that might affect medication choice, researchers found that newer medication use was 29% less likely in Black patients, 23% less likely in Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander patients, and 7% less likely in Hispanic patients, compared with White individuals.

“I hope that clinicians will see from our findings that minoritized patients with epilepsy face a myriad of barriers in receiving the highest quality of care, including ASM use,” said lead investigator Wyatt P. Bensken, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland. “Considering your patients’ barriers, and how that influences their care – including ASM selection – will be critical to helping reduce these population-level inequities.”

Wyatt P. Bensken, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Wyatt Bensken

The study was published online in Neurology Clinical Practice.

A prompt for practice change

For the study, researchers used Medicaid claims for more than 78,000 people who had filled at least two prescriptions for an ASM between 2010 and 2014.

Most patients were White (53.4%); 22.6% were Black; 11.9% were Hispanic; 1.6% were Asian; 1.5% were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; 0.6% American Indian or Alaskan Native; and 8.3% were classified as “other.”

One-quarter of participants were taking an older ASM, such as carbamazepine, phenytoin, and valproate. About 65% were taking second-generation ASMs, including gabapentin, levetiracetam, and zonisamide. A little less than 10% were taking lacosamide, perampenel, or another third-generation ASM.

Compared with White patients, newer medication prescriptions were significantly less likely in Black individuals (adjusted odds ratio, 0.71; 95% confidence interval, 0.68-0.75), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders (aOR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.67-0.88), and Hispanic patients (aOR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.88-0.99).

Third-generation ASMs were used by 10.7% of White patients versus 6% of Black individuals and 5.1% of American Indian or Alaskan Native patients.

Researchers also found that taking a second-generation ASM was associated with better treatment adherence (aOR, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.11-1.23) and that patients on newer ASMs were more than three times as likely to be under the care of a neurologist (aOR, 3.26; 95% CI, 3.13-3.41).

The findings draw attention to racial inequities surrounding access to medication and specialists and subspecialists, Dr. Bensken said. Identifying specific barriers and developing solutions is the long-range goal, he added.

“In the interim, increasing the attention to these inequities will, we hope, prompt changes across practices,” Dr. Bensken said.

A ‘wake-up call’

Commenting on the findings, Joseph Sirven, MD, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic Florida, Jacksonville, said the results were “striking” because newer ASMs are generally the go-to for most physicians who treat epilepsy.

“Use of first-generation ASMs is typically reserved [for] if one runs out of options,” Dr. Sirven said.

This study and others like it should serve as a “wake-up call” for clinicians, Dr. Sirven added.

“This study is important because it shows that whether we realize it or not, race and ethnicities are playing a role in ASM, and this is related to financial access to newer-generation drugs,” he said. “Similar findings are seen in impoverished countries where first-generation ASM drugs are routinely used because of drug pricing.”


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