Oregon House passes bill allowing psychologists to prescribe drugs

From the Oregonian, May 4 2009

The Oregon House pushed aside strong opposition from the medical community on Monday, approving a bill that would give psychologists the ability to prescribe drugs.

If approved by the Senate, the expansion would be limited to psychologists who meet strict training and education guidelines. The only drugs they could prescribe would be psychotropics to treat mental illness, such as depression.

The data in psychotherapy show “that medication and therapy are more effective than either one alone,” said Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, a key backer of House Bill 2702 and a former practicing psychologist. “It’s hard to see this as other than a turf battle.”

Kennemer said he expects only a small number of psychologists would seek prescribing ability.

“They will not change the world,” he said, “but they will change the world for a handful of people.”

Psychologists have sought prescribing power for years, saying the state needs to expand scarce mental health services to people who may not live near a psychiatrist or want to be treated by one. But they weren’t able to get legislators on board until this session, after intensive reworking of the details before lawmakers convened. Monday’s vote was 47-11.

Psychologists specialize in mental health, but do not have medical degrees. Psychiatrists specialize in mental disorders and have medical degrees. In Oregon, doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can prescribe drugs.

Another bill approved by the Senate and now in a House committee would expand the ability of naturopathic physicians to prescribe drugs.

The bill that passed the House Monday requires psychologists to earn a two-year master’s degree in psychopharmacology and to complete 800 hours of supervised training in dispensing drugs. New Mexico and Louisiana have approved similar laws.

Opponents of the change include the Oregon Medical Association and Oregon Psychiatric Association. They argue that the bill puts patients at risk.

“The bill doesn’t require enough training to handle some of these really heavy duty medications,” said Betsy Boyd-Flynn, deputy executive director of the medical association. “Of course we recognize there’s a work force crisis, but this is a Band-Aid approach.”

John McCulley, executive secretary of the Oregon Psychiatric Association, said nurse practitioners are qualified to dispense drugs, unlike psychologists.

“They have a degree in nursing, which is a medical profession,” he said. “They have the foundation to take the next step and receive pharmacological training.”

Licensed psychologists outnumber psychiatrists in Oregon, about 1,400 to 400.

About a half-dozen psychologists have received the extra master’s degree and would be ready to take the next step, said Debra Orman McHugh, executive director of the state board of psychologist examiners.

READ – Oregon House Bill 2702 – Authorizes State Board of Psychologist Examiners to issue
certificate of prescriptive authority to certain licensed psychologists.