DENVER (KDVR) — State lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow psychologists to prescribe medication to patients, once they undergo training and more education. There are an estimated 3,200 psychologists in Colorado. The push is said to be an effort to Colorado’s mental health crisis.
The bill is sponsored by State Representatives Judy Amibile (D-Boulder) and Mary Bradfield (R-Colorado Springs), Senate President Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder), and Senator Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa).
The proposal has only passed in five other states including Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Idaho. Colorado would be the sixth state in the nation if passed. Supporters say the goal is to expand access to mental health care, but some like the Colorado Psychiatric Society, Colorado Medical Society, American Academy of Pediatrics – Colorado chapter, and the Colorado Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Society are opposed.
Healthier Colorado, a nonprofit organization, is pushing for the passing of the bill saying it will increase access and resources to mental health care for both kids and adults. Kyle Piccola, vice president of communications and advocacy for Healthier Colorado, says a task force has been in motion for over a year working on the legislation and requirements.
“We have kids ending up in the emergency room,” Piccola said. “We have veterans waiting on long waiting lists. It’s a vital step to make sure more people have this access.”
Piccola said the goal is to eliminate ”jumping through hoops” to immediately get life-saving medication for anxiety, depression and more without having to wait.
“The ultimate goal is to get people on the medications that they need, so we can prevent mental health emergencies like suicide,” Piccola said.
According to a Healthier Colorado news release, in states that have passed this policy, suicide rates have decreased by up to 39%.
If passed, psychologists would not be able to prescribe medication overnight. Psychologists already have a Ph.D., but to prescribe they must earn a master’s degree, participate in clinical rotations, obtain a special license, pass national board exams and more.
Dr. Jennifer Hagman M.D. is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and believes the proposal should not be passed. She thinks it is not safe.
“They’re not medical professionals and they’re not medically trained,” Hagman said. “Medical training is really important. There’s really not a way to prescribe safely without having really significant medically focused training and a lot of medical experience, supervised experience with medical decision making.”
Piccola says this will enhance care because it will open more communication and treatment, as psychologists will have to communicate with a patient’s primary care physician.
The bill was just introduced and is currently in committee, but has a long way to go. It must be passed in the House and Senate and signed by the governor.