Psychologists in two neighboring New England states experienced different results in their attempts to convince legislators to create commissions to study the access to psychotropic medications in their largely rural populations.
In Maine, following testimony in mid-February, the House Health and Human Services Committee directed psychologists and the medical community to meet with the state’s Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services to define better the scope of the proposed commission’s study.
The Maine legislation to create an eight-member “Commission to Study Access to Prescription Medication for Persons with Mental Illness” was introduced late last year by State Rep. Michael Brennen, MSW, after reading an article about psychology’s successful attempt to win prescribing authority in New Mexico.
Testifying at the Maine hearing were Maine Psychological Association President Christine A. Gray, Psy.D., and Jeff Matranga, Ph.D., who pointed to the lack of access to psychotropic medications for individuals living in the rural part of the state.
Around 20 physicians and six of their lobbyists also attended the meeting. While the physicians lauded Maine psychologists for being outstanding mental health practitioners, they opposed the measure to create the commission and argued that psychologists should not gain prescription authority. The medical association has also hired a public relations firm to help it stop the study commission proposal.
The legislation would create a commission made up of four legislators, the commissioner of professional and financial regulation, the commissioner of behavioral and developmental services, one physician and one psychologist.
Earlier in the month, a similar proposal in neighboring New Hampshire was defeated.
Sandy Rose, Ph.D., of Hover, N.H., said the legislation to create a commission to study access to psychotropic drugs in the rural state was introduced by legislators who felt that a proposal to permit prescription authority to that state’s psychologists, which was defeated in 2003, was not sufficiently debated and needed further review.
“We were astounded that the same level of ‘review’ was replicated this year,” Rose said. After only two hours of testimony during which no questions were asked, the committee defeated the proposal, she added.
Medical doctors testified that there is no access problem for children or low income resident and that primary care physicians are able to diagnose the majority of psychiatric conditions and are comfortable with prescribing psychotropics despite their limited time for evaluation, patient follow up or lack of psychological training.
Meanwhile, Maine’s Matranga said that most of the state’s psychologists are solidly behind the effort to gain prescription authority. He said the most recent survey of members of the Maine Psychological Association showed that 79 percent favored gaining such authority. A year earlier, 43 percent of the membership favored such efforts.