ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico has become the first state to let psychologists prescribe drugs for mental illness, a move lamented by some physicians.
Supporters of the legislation, signed Tuesday by Gov. Gary Johnson, argued the change would help expand mental health services, particularly in rural areas of New Mexico.
In many states, only physicians -- that is, those holding a medical degree -- and nurse practitioners with special training can prescribe drugs. Psychiatrists hold medical degrees. Psychologists generally hold Ph.D.'s or master's degrees, not medical degrees.
The American Psychiatric Association contended the measure ''threatens quality of medical care and could result in an incalculable cost in human life and health care dollars.'' The American Medical Association has also come out against allowing psychologists to prescribe medication.
''We believe that the Legislature and the governor in New Mexico have placed patient health and safety at risk,'' said Richard Harding, president of the American Psychiatric Association.
But the governor's office said safeguards are built into the measure.
Among other things, psychologists who want to prescribe drugs would have to get a state license to do so. The state Board of Medical Examiners would establish the guidelines for training programs for those seeking a license and would likely help oversee their drug licensing, doctors said Wednesday.
Dr. C. Grant La Farge, secretary-treasurer of the board, said it's too soon to say exactly what role the board will have in licensing and that the issue will be taken up at its meeting in May.
There are only 95 psychiatrists in all of New Mexico, with a population of 1.8 million, according to the New Mexico Psychological Association.
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