Is there really a drug that cures or treats racism? Apparently so. In case you missed the shocking headlines earlier this year, research published February 28th, 2012 in the journal Psychopharmacology and titled Propanolol reduces implicit negative racial bias suggests that folks who take propanolol, a generic beta blocker medication used to treat portal hypertension, heart disease and hypertension, scored lower on testing for implicit racism, but not explicit racism. Thirty-six young and healthy white people were randomized in a double-blind, parallel group, placebo controlled trial to receive 40 mg of propanolol or placebo. Participants completed an explicit measure of prejudice and the racial implicit association test (IAT), 1–2 h after propranolol administration. The results of this small study showed that implicit racism was abolished without affecting explicit racism.
How is that possible? How could a drug possibly be used to treat racism? What is the theory behind treating racism with a drug? Researchers believe that racism is founded in fear and proponolol, as a beta blocker, can blunt the brain's central nervous and cardiac "fear centers" and thereby reduce the urge for racial bias. There seems to be a drug for everything these days. Heck, we have a drug for restless legs, why not a drug to cure racism? I was once asked to write an order to control the pain of a canker sore. That's right folks. A canker sore. I'm waiting for the day I am asked to prescribe propanolol for a patient that is being too racist in the hospital. Heck, one day I might even get sued for not prescribing propanolol to a patient who left the hospital after their COPD exacerbation and went on a racially motivated hate crime. Some lawyer may try and accuse me of negligence for not protecting the innocent public from such an easily treatable condition that I failed to diagnose.
We live in America where there is a medication for everything. We have the right to be satisfied with our care. So much so, that even though higher patient satisfaction scores are associated with higher mortality. We are here to please and we are here to get better patient satisfaction scores. That means, if you are not white and you are practicing as a physician hospitalist in this country, and you have a hard to pronounce name, not only are you gonig to have to change your name, but you had better start prescribing propanolol to all your white patients, just in case they are hiding a little implicit racist attitude under their hospital gown. You don't want to sacrifice your good patient satisfaction scores and cost your hospital millions of dollars just because of Jim Bob's subconscious racist attitude. Just tell him to take his propanolol to take the edge off.