Would a Proposed Law Increase Medication Errors in Illinois?

Medication is so pervasive in society that it is easy to forget about the delicate nature in which drugs must be used. Just because someone has bottles of pills lying around or receive prescriptions on a routine basis does not mean that drugs do not pose incredible risks that need to be balanced properly. There is a reason that strict rules are in place which dictate who can provide drugs, when, how, and in what quantity. The possibility of addiction, over-medication, adverse reactions are severe.

Even when properly regulated, errors occur. The medical malpractice lawyers at our firm work with many local families whose loved ones suffer injury (or death) because of medication errors. Even nurses and doctors make mistakes when it comes to the prescription and administration of powerful medications.

These risks are leading many advocates to stand in opposition to a proposed bill in Illinois that would expand the scope of people who are allowed to prescribe medications. The legislation (SB 2187, HB 3074) would allow psychologists to prescribe drugs. This drive to provide drug-use power to non-medical doctors is part of a movement often referred to as “RxP.”

Those supporting the drive have adequate motivations at their core: expanding access to patients in lower-served communities. Psychiatrists are sometimes hard to find. Therefore, residents in certain areas may need to wait months before having an appointment and potentially receiving medication for mental health challenges. Some argue that expanding the prescribing power to psychologists will fix the problem, ensuring that all residents have access to the beneficial tools they need to live better lives.

Fears of Increased Medication Errors
Expanding access to care is a worthy goal. But a chorus of Illinois groups are waving red flags in opposition to this proposal. They worry about a groundswell of medication abuse and drug errors which may cause more harm than good.

The Illinois State Medical Society voiced concern over the legislation. The President of the group said, “To have that hands-on experience, to have that interaction with patients is so important. The concern is that psychologists have not had that clinical experience. You need years of experience in terms of knowing how these drugs will work in the body, how they’re eliminated from the body and how they interact with other medications.”

Proponents of the law counter that the legislation calls for expanded training before psychologists would obtain prescribing powers. Most notably, the professionals would need to obtain a Master’s degree in psychopharmacology (on top of their actual Psychology doctorate). This is added to additional internships, training, and experience requirements.

Illinois Drug Law Change – Unlikely
The bill passed out of a Senate committee unanimously earlier this year. Despite that, most do not expect this measure to make it much farther. The opposition from powerful state interest groups is likely too much to overcome. In fact, similar bills have been proposed in the state at least 14 times in the past years; all were defeated. Nationwide only two states have expanded prescription power to psychologists since 1995, even though dozens have tried.

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