Closeup of older woman sleeping in bed

Patients who belong to racial minority groups are much less likely to be prescribed medications after being diagnosed with insomnia than white patients, according to the results of a new study.

Investigators analyzed data from the Indiana Network for Patient Care. Participants included about 10,000 people who were prescribed federally approved medications for insomnia. 

The results showed that Black patients were significantly less likely than white patients to have been prescribed insomnia medications at any time after their diagnoses. In addition, other non-white patients with insomnia also had much lower odds of receiving a prescription for such drugs at 2, 3 and 4 years after their diagnoses, although not in year one.

What’s more, white patients overall had a shorter period between diagnosis and prescription than did other races — even though older patients and those with comorbidities were less likely to be prescribed insomnia medications regardless of their race, reported co-author Malaz Boustani, MD, MPH, of the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University, in Indianapolis.

Boustani and colleagues controlled for variables such as anxiety disorders and depression, where the study participants lived and other factors that might account for the disparity in prescriptions for insomnia medications. “We found that race was the only variable that accounted for the differences in treatment,” he said in a statement.

Widespread undertreatment?

Not only does the study reveal racial disparities in insomnia medication prescribing, but it suggests that providers may be undertreating insomnia, added first author Emma Holler, MPH, of the Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington.

The researchers recommended that a cautious interpretation of the results is warranted, as the data came from secondary sources. Nevertheless, the study showed that electronic health records can be an invaluable resource for understanding clinical practice, they noted. The study is also one of the first to investigate racial disparities in the pharmacologic treatment of insomnia, they said.

Full findings were published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

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