Pain Study Finds Gap In Minorities Seeking Help

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hispanics who suffer from severe chronic pain are less likely than members of other ethnic groups to seek professional help for their ailments, according to a study by the research arm of a major pharmaceutical company.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Pain, found that 70 percent of Hispanics who suffer from intense pain consulted a doctor in the past three months, compared with 84 percent of whites and 85 percent of blacks.

About a third of the 1,300 people who participated in the telephone survey conducted by Partners Against Pain reported experiencing chronic pain, and 20 percent of those said they had never sought professional care. About 50 million Americans endure persistent pain, according to the American Pain Foundation.

Lack of health care coverage was cited as a major reason why Hispanics go untreated. Sixty-two percent of Hispanic respondents were insured, according to the study, compared with 84 percent of whites and 78 percent of blacks.

Hispanics in the survey said they feared becoming addicted to drugs used to treat pain. They were more likely to answer "yes" to the statement "I often treat my pain without the help of a health care professional."

"The study validates what many advocates have said all along: We don't acknowledge pain as something Latinos should do," said Venus Gines, chief executive officer of Dia de la Mujer Latina, an advocacy group based in the Atlanta area. "Showing pain is a sign of weakness. We don't talk about pain. Here I am, a California girl, a Latina with a college degree, but yet when I have pain, I go back to home remedies," said Gines, who is of Puerto Rican heritage.

Russell Portenoy, chairman of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and lead author of the study, said persistent pain "has profoundly negative consequences -- depression, fatigue, poor relationships and an inability to work. Chronic pain may be an illness in its own right."

The survey, conducted over three weeks in April 2002, was funded by a grant from the Purdue Pharma Fund, a subsidiary of the Purdue Pharma LP pharmaceutical chain. The group created Partners Against Pain, an alliance of patients, caregivers and health care providers, according to a statement.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company