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We studied if ethnicity influences patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) for the treatment of post-operative pain. Using a retrospective record review, we examined data from all patients treated with PCA for post-operative pain from January to June 1993. We excluded patients who did not have surgery prior to the prescription of PCA or were not prescribed PCA in the immediate post-operative period. The sample consisted of 454 subjects. While there were no differences in the amount of narcotic self-administered, there were significant differences in the amount of narcotic prescribed among Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites (F = 7.352, P < 0.01). The ethnic differences in prescribed analgesic persisted after controlling for age, gender, pre-operative use of narcotics, pain site, and insurance status. Patient's ethnicity has a greater impact on the amount of narcotic prescribed by the physician than on the amount of narcotic self-administered by the patient.