• Day 11

    Day 11 – The Racist "Pain Myth" in Healthcare

    Last week we learned about three specific medical situations. Some of these things are so extreme, it makes you wonder, how did this happen? This brings us back to slavery era and how slave owners justified slavery by establishing that black people experienced less or no pain. This racist idea has long been proven false, but continues to influence black health to this day.  We will look at how this justification of slavery evolved into the handling of current issues today, specifically drug epidemics. 

    Slavery was justified for many reasons from the bible to the “natural order.” One unique way it was justified is still seen today; black people do not feel or have as much pain as white people. We saw this idea play out in yesterday’s content when Dr. Sims performed controversial experiments on black women slaves. He had the same view as his peers in that black women did not need anesthesia or pain medicine because they didn’t feel pain.

    Obviously, this is proven false today.  Regardless of the science, we still see this age-old myth in doctors’ offices and healthcare everywhere. Studies have shown that many people still believe that black people feel less pain. You can listen to another story about this here.

    This harmful myth is not only detrimental to the black community, but we have learned from the drug epidemic that it can be harmful to everyone. We look at the crack cocaine epidemic and the opioid epidemic. The crack cocaine epidemic plagued the 1980’s and affected mostly the black community. How health officials chose to handle that epidemic set the tone for the new epidemic: the opioid and heroin crisis. The opioid crisis was a new crisis that mostly affected a different racial group: white people.

    Health officials handled the crack cocaine epidemic not by addressing it as a health issue (which it was) but addressing it as a criminal issue. They fought this crisis through law enforcement and set up mass incarceration for offenders. Some professionals believe that this set the tone for lack of preparation for the opioid epidemic. When the time came for a drug crisis that affected white people, health officials did not know how to handle it. You can read more about it here.

    And of course, we must ask ourselves, “Why does the opioid crisis affect white people more than blacks?”  There are several variables, but one of them brings us back to our original discussion: pain. Doctors are far more likely to prescribe intense pain medication to white people who report feeling pain, as opposed to their black counterparts.

    After you read through and learn about “the pain myth” tell us: What is your definition of pain? You can share your responses with us @LWScienceHealth on Instagram.

    Want to dive deeper into the material? Links to all materials can be found at tinyurl.com/LWSHChallenge.