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Doctor's Orders

In 2002, New Mexico became the first state in the country to allow psychologists to prescribe drugs, a function previously reserved for psychiatrists ["Shrink vs. Shrink," August 2003]. In May, Louisiana became the second state to adopt such a law.

As in New Mexico, lobbying from psychologists and psychiatrists was fierce. Psychologists contend that prescription powers will not only ease shortages of mental health professionals in rural areas but will be more cost-effective for patients and insurance companies. Psychiatrists argue that a medical degree is necessary to fully understand drugs, including dangerous interactions and side effects.

New Mexico's law, originally intended to take effect this year, has been delayed by licensing requirements. In both New Mexico and Louisiana, psychologists are required to go through additional post- graduate training before they are granted prescription authority. In Louisiana, psychologists are also required to consult the patient's primary care physician before writing a prescription.

The issue of psychologists' prescribing drugs is one of many "scope of practice" debates raging through state legislatures. Other medical groups wishing to expand their current practices include oral surgeons, optometrists, podiatrists, social workers and physical therapists. Eighteen other states have considered legislation allowing psychologists to prescribe drugs.

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Anya Sostek was a GOVERNING correspondent

Twitter: @governing


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