Sickle-cell anemia sufferers suspect racial profiling in emergency rooms

by: Essex Porter Updated:

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Sufferers of a painful condition that affects African-Americans say racial profiling can prolong their pain in local emergency rooms.

Karim Assalaam and Joehayward Wilson are both living with sickle-cell anemia. This genetic blood disorder is most common among people of African and Mediterranean descent. It can create intense internal pain. But when these two 24 year-old African-American go to emergency rooms for help, they are often met with suspicion.

“I think it is because of being a young adult and African-American,” Wilson told us.

The pair are among the 12,000 people in Washington State who carry the genetic trait for Sickle Cell Anemia. Wilson and Karim Assalaam are among the 450 living with the disease.

"It's hard, people assume you're only out for the drugs or that's the only thing you're coming to there for,” Assalaam said.

 Sickle-cell sufferers frequently use Oxycontin for the pain. The drug is a narcotic that’s often abused by addicts who crush the slow-acting pills and then use the powder for a quick high.

 But now a new version of current pain drugs could ease the suspicion – they’re called abuse deterrent formulations.

 “It's got a hard shell around it, now you take a hammer and it doesn't crack. You can put it in a coffee grinder and you can't grind it down,” said Dr. Gordon Irving of the Pain Management Clinic at Swedish Medical Center.

 He agrees the abuse-resistant drugs are a good option for easing suspicion, but by no means the total solution.

 Assalaam and Wilson say attitudes have to change, too. “I've always been treated like I'm addicted, I've always been treated like I'm drug-seeking.”