Is pain racist? Advil seems to think so.

2024-03-20 18:07:14

Is pain racist? Advil seems to think so. The manufacturer of the pain relief widely available in American supermarkets and pharmacies unveiled “believe my pain” campaign and placed signs next to its product advising customers that according to Advil’s own study 3 in 4 blacks who experience pain believe that there is a difference in how their pain is treated. Am I supposed to drop an Advil to think about it? Because when I start thinking about it, I get a headache.

Advil explained that the corporation’s goal is “pain equity” which it defined as “everyone reaching their full potential” — a vague description to be sure. Properly treating conditions of which pain is the symptom and managing suffering is a more measurable goal.

The Advil study to which they refer was published in the form of snippets on the company website. It consisted of an online survey of 1,000 Americans suffering from pain and an oversample of 1,000 blacks — probably not the best methodology.

The study also found that blacks are more likely to go to the emergency rooms than all other ethnic groups. 20% of black respondents visited emergency rooms for their health issues compare to 10% of whites, 17% of Hispanics and just 5% percent of Asians. In other words, blacks receive different — and perhaps lower quality — treatments. Moreover, the higher rates of use of emergency rooms suggests that a significant number don’t address their health problems until they become entrenched.

In addition to the survey, Advil profiled five blacks Americans with harrowing stories of misdiagnoses during which they say their complains of pain were ignored by unnamed doctors at unnamed hospitals. It doesn’t sound like their problems could be fixed with over the counter pain relief — Advil’s product. The company is using political ideology to create a certain feel about their name — anyone can do it, so why should I buy their pills?

I trust the subjects of the interview have their reasons to withdraw the information relating to their healthcare, but, from the reader’s point of view, this campaign has a strong #MeToo feel. We are asked to believe something as personal as the experience of pain and perception of racism based on unverified information. I don’t want to suggest that the experiences described are unlikely — many interactions in a doctor’s office don’t have a happy ending.

Medical errors are sadly common, so I don’t think it would be difficult to round up five Asians or whites in this great big country of ours with their own anecdotes of misdiagnosis, including ignoring their complaints of pain. Nor do I want to suggest that it may not happen to blacks more often. However, to jump to the conclusion that negative experiences of blacks are due to racism in medical profession based solely on feelings of the wronged individuals is to ignore all other explanations.

Could it be that black people tend to receive poor quality care because of lack of resources and inability to properly navigate the increasingly complicated healthcare system? If that’s the case, as quality of care deteriorates, poor people, including blacks, are likely to see more suffering.

Because medical errors are so common, not getting sick in the first place is the best strategy for avoiding them. Here, virtue signaling advertising professionals — the kind that Advil employs — are of little help. The recent “thinness is white supremacy” and “healthy at any size” messages that permeated billboards and magazine covers promote the very ideas that send people they are supposed to help to emergency rooms. “White colonialist medicine” didn’t come up with the notion that morbid obesity as a killer for the sole purpose of telling black women that they can’t be beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; health is measurable. Once health deteriorates, interventions begin, opening room for errors.

The Advil study found that black Americans are more likely to believe that medical providers ignore their pain because they stereotype them as capable of withstanding it — hence the “believe my pain” slogan. They also want to see more black medical professionals who understand their experience. But how many of these responders to the online poll also feel that being told to lose weight is racist?

Advil’s campaign should be viewed in the broader context of the attempt, just now coming into gear, to introduce DEI into American medical institutions. While inclusion of critical race theory into medical school curriculum is happening behind the scenes, a public information campaign like Believe My Pain stands as the visible part of the medical DEI iceberg.

The coming health equity will likely include affirmative action doctors and dubious medical training for everyone. Talk show host Ben Shapiro posted a leaked document from a mandatory workshop at the UCLA School of Medicine which detailed gory ways to “dismantle white supremacy” and included detailed study of “blackness and indigenuity” and “how we can imagine a world in the aftermath of settler colonialism and white supremacy.” Advil, for its part, is partnering with the Moorhouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and Black Lives Matter-themed social justice organization BLKHLTH to promote “health and pain equity” in medical education.

Medical schools across the country are ending merit admissions in order to enroll black and Latino students. How do they intend to teach unqualified individuals is another question — undergraduate programs across the country already struggle with too big and unprepared student bodies.

After completion of the program these doctors will probably go to treat minority communities and minorities will be advised to chose them. Will they “believe the pain”? Maybe. A better question is will they be best suited to identify and treat illnesses. DEI is likely to diminish the quality of medical services for all Americans but, as police abolitionists hurt black neighborhoods most, we can reasonably expect that the poor black communities will see their standards of care most affected.

It’s really a shame that Advil took on an issue purely for virtue signaling because they have an excellent product that goes a long way to relieve pain and suffering in America. I recently recovered from a major surgery using only Advil for pain relief. My medical team insisted that they were operating on a very sensitive area and advised me to take Oxycodone preemptively, before pain gets out of hand. I was willing to risk a few hours of agony to see if I could avoid the opiate, and it turned out I didn’t need it at all.

I don’t think I have a particularly high pain threshold. But I am among the growing number of Americans who are aware of the addictiveness of prescription opioids and are willing to try alternative methods. Doctors, too, are now far less generous with narcotic prescriptions than they used to be. Considering the severity of the drug epidemic in this country, Advil can do more good by informing us about the uses of their product post-operatively than virtue signaling about issues that have nothing to do with it.


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