Legislation proposed to grant psychologists prescribing previleges

A number of states now have legislative proposals to allow psychologists to prescribe pharmaceuticals. American Medical News has a story on the subject; Psychologists seek prescribing rights in 6 states.

Psychologists in six states are seeking the authority to prescribe drugs, saying it would allow them to serve patients better in a mental health system stretched thin without enough physicians to meet growing demands.

Although this number is only 6 now, I would imagine that if they have any success in this maneuvering the number of states with psychologists pressing for such legislation will go up.

The 6 states considering allowing psychologists to prescribe these powerful brain damaging drugs are Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon and Tennessee. The legislation is opposed by many organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and most state medical organizations. Only the states of Louisiana and New Mexico allow this practice now.

When people in mental health treatment, according to one study, are dying 25 years younger than the rest of the population, due in large part to the drugs that they are being prescribed, I find this effort to grant prescribing privileges to psychologists very distressing. Now that the role of psychiatrist has become one chiefly of pushing pills, the matter could only be exasperated by permitting psychologists to play the same or a similar role.

Proponents of the bills say patients in many areas can’t access mental health services in a timely manner. Shortages of child psychiatrists mean that many families wait months to get needed medication for their children, and many pediatricians are reluctant to prescribe psychotropic drugs, said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice at the American Psychological Assn.

The official line is that this has something to do with improving access to mental health services in rural areas. The reality of the situation is that this has more to do with psychologists as a professional block making a power grab for some of the status and economic clout that psychiatrists have traditionally known. Undoubtedly, where psychologists are allowed prescribing privileges, the same kind of corruption that exists among psychiatrists will make itself felt. Psychologists are not immune from conflict of interest charges, and you will begin to see their names appearing on drug company payrolls.

Allowing psychologists to prescribe psychiatric drugs would be a bad decision, and I would discourage other states from pursuing this sort of legislation. I hope these bills are soundly defeated in the states where they are being proposed. Psychiatric drugs are often ineffective in so far as treatment goes, and they are also potentially damaging to a patient’s physical health. We’ve got more than enough drug induced problems than we can handle with psychiatrists alone prescribing these powerful drugs. Allowing another profession to peddle them would only mean more people get harmed.