Psychologists in New Mexico will be permitted to prescribe psychotropic medications under the provisions of a law signed by Gov. Gary E. Johnson at the end of this year's legislative session.
American Psychiatric Association President Richard K. Harding, M.D., immediately issued a strongly worded denunciation of the governor's action, calling the measure "the result of a cynical, economically-motivated effort by some elements of organized psychology to achieve legislated prescriptive authority without benefit of medical education and training," and pledged that the APA will continue "to oppose all efforts to jeopardize the public health by allowing persons without a medical education to practice medicine."
But Joel Yager, M.D., head of the department of psychiatry at University of New Mexico and a member of the APA Council of Medical Education and Career Development, believes Johnson approved the hotly debated legislation precisely because he agreed with arguments by psychiatrists about the risks to the public from having inadequately trained personnel prescribing drugs.
"We were able to meet with his staff for an hour, and we and the psychologists had 15 minutes with him" the day before the bill was signed, Yager told Psychiatric Times. "I think he agreed with our arguments. Therefore, he signed the bill."
He said that the governor may have feared that a measure with fewer safeguards to protect patients might be forced through the legislature next year after he leaves office, so he signed this year's measure, which had been heavily amended to require extensive training of psychologists before they are granted prescriptive authority. The bill also gives equal responsibility for oversight of the training programs and regulations to the state's Board of Medical Examiners and Board of Psychologist Examiners.
"One of our consultants said she believes the governor felt that no one in the legislature is really smart enough to understand these issues, so he took it out of [their] hands," Yager added.
As a practical matter, the training and supervision requirements of the law, which take effect July 1, may discourage psychologists from seeking state approval to prescribe. Luis A. Vargas, Ph.D., chair of the Board of Psychologist Examiners, told PT that he estimated that only about 25 of the 550 licensed psychologists in the state would seek prescribing authority.