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State Senate OKs bill to let psychologists prescribe mental health medications

In this Feb. 5 2013 phoIllinois Sen. DHarmD-Oak Park speaks lawmakers during Senate Executive Committee hearing Illinois State Capitol Springfield

In this Feb. 5, 2013 photo, Illinois Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, speaks to lawmakers during a Senate Executive Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's ethics proposal outlined in his State of the State speech is raising eyebrows. His idea is to ban Illinois lawmakers from voting on anything that might help them personally. But there are questions about whom the proposal targets. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) ORG XMIT: ILSP102

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:26AM

SPRINGFIELD — A plan to enable psychologists to prescribe anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs moved out of the Illinois Senate on Thursday over objections from groups representing physicians and psychiatrists.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) passed the Senate 37-10, with four members voting present. The legislation, Senate Bill 2187, now moves to the House.

“I used to oppose this bill. I am now the sponsor and am a firm believer this is a sensible way to provide access to mental health care to countless constituents who don’t have it today,” Harmon said.

Harmon said his legislation would address the “critical shortage of mental health professionals” in Illinois, giving patients more avenues to safely acquire their drugs.

Under Harmon’s plan, psychologists seeking to dispense mental-health prescriptions would have to be licensed to practice psychology by the state and hold a doctorate in psychology. They also would need a master’s degree in psychopharmacology, five years experience treating patients and to consult with patients’ primary-care physicians.

If the plan were to pass the House and be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois would join Louisiana and New Mexico as the only states to allow psychologists to prescribe medications for mental illness. The military also permits its psychologists to dispense psychotropic drugs, Harmon said.

“For all of this time, there has not been one single complaint or incident of which we’ve been aware where there’s been a failure in the system, where a psychologist has prescribed a medicine that has compromised a patient’s safety,” Harmon said, referring to the track record in states that allow the practice.

Among those opposing the legislation was Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), who worried that psychologists wouldn’t necessarily have the medical training to understand the side effects of mental health medications or how the drugs interact with other medications. “My main concern . . . is that the core nature of the training of psychologists is not in the physical sciences,” Radogno said.

The Illinois State Medical Society urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, warning earlier this month that empowering psychologists with prescription-writing authority would “put patients at risk.”

“Simply requiring minimal instruction in pharmacology, neuroscience and physiology independent of a professional’s overall education and training is far from adequate and does not prepare a person to treat a patient as a medical doctor would,” the group said in a statement

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