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Keywords:

  • Race;
  • ethnicity;
  • disparities;
  • utilization;
  • new prescription drugs

Objective. To examine racial and ethnic disparities in new prescription drug use.

Data Sources/Study Setting. Secondary data analyses of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (1996–2001), a national survey representative of U.S. noninstitutionalized civilian population. Drug approval dates were from the GenRx database of Mosby.

Study Design. A negative binomial model was used to compare annual number of times when new drugs were obtained across racial and ethnic groups. Covariates in the model were demographic, economic characteristics, and health status. Drugs were considered new if approved within the past 5 years. We compared non-Hispanic whites with non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic whites with Hispanic whites, respectively, to examine racial and ethnic disparities separately.

Principal Findings. Descriptive analyses found smaller racial disparities than ethnic disparities: the average annual number of times when new drugs were obtained was higher among non-Hispanic whites than non-Hispanic blacks (1.71 versus 1.36; p<.01) and Hispanic whites (1.71 versus 1.11; p<.01). Multivariate analyses found smaller ethnic than racial disparities: the number was 22–33 percent lower among non-Hispanic blacks than non-Hispanic whites (significant), and 5–16 percent lower among Hispanic whites than non-Hispanic whites (not always significant), respectively. While the absolute racial disparities decreased over the early years of the life cycles of the products, the reduction in disparities over time was not significant.

Conclusions. There are racial disparities in the use of new medications, which persist during the first 5 years of marketing. Socioeconomic and health characteristics account for a larger share of ethnic disparities than racial disparities.