Psychiatry already charting course to win support in New Mexico prescribing

By Henry Saeman, Editor
July 1, 2001



In the recent war over prescription privileges in New Mexico, David nearly slew Goliath when the New Mexico Psychological Assn. narrowly missed overpowering the combined medical and psychiatric forces in internecine warfare at the State House. Fiscal force prevailed, winning the day for psychiatrists when the clock ran out on psychology’s efforts.

Now, a new chapter unfolds. New Mexico psychiatrists have already started charting the future course for the next legislative session in 2003. For psychologists, who lack an organized fundraising political action committee (PAC) but plan to change that, it won’t be easy to match.

In last springtime’s skirmish at the New Mexico State House, the well-fixed medical side determined the outcome: When one lobbyist was inadequate during the height of battle, the medical-psychiatric combo hired a second; and when that failed to suffice, a third lobbyist was brought aboard. Psychology responded with a dozen hardy souls and no war chest.

Soon after New Mexico psychiatrists avoided the embarrassment of becoming the first state where psychologists gained prescription privileges, the president of the state’s psychiatric association was quoted that his group planned to maintain “a close connection with the valuable team we have put together.” He and his colleagues vowed to contact more psychologists who oppose prescribing privileges, alert the media to the implications of such legislation and present a vigorous defense to counter the assertion that psychiatrists are virtually nonexistent in rural areas.

Psychologists had argued effectively with state legislators that New Mexico lacked psychiatrists in rural areas–a longtime contention in rural America–and that psychologists would be available to treat clients in distant reaches. Psychiatry responded that New Mexico legislators did not receive data on the distribution of psychologists in isolated areas or on the number of general practice physicians located in secluded regions who are qualified to prescribe psychoactive medications.

Psychiatric News, the house organ of the American Psychiatric Association, reported that psychiatry had difficulty combating the distribution argument which, it said, seemed to resonate with lawmakers but “successfully raised enough concerns that they were able to postpone a vote long enough that the clock ran out.”

Psychiatry was concerned that champions for psychologists were comprised of New Mexico’s attorney general, secretary of state and a majority of legislators, among them several influential committee chairs. However, psychiatry did not suffer from a lack of influential supporters. When the prescription bill appeared before the state senate’s Public Affairs committee and passed by a 4 to 3 vote, two of the three votes were by physician members of the Senate.

New Mexico psychiatry and medicine also expect to rely on the breach within psychology–the academic community which opposes practitioners and the segment of practitioners who are indifferent about the prescription privileges issue.

There were indications that psychiatrists at the University of New Mexico Medical School were preparing to communicate with the psychology department in hopes of winning them over. However, a psychology spokesperson indicated it is too early to speculate when or how such discussions would be held.

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