Kentucky’s new law on prescription drug abuse got a checkup this week from members of the medical profession who diagnosed themselves with headaches and anxiety attacks resulting from its restrictions. The next General Assembly may consider a course of treatment.
We can’t say we weren’t warned. Physicians and other medical providers previously expressed reservations about the legislation, which was modified before its last-minute passage in April’s special session. The final version eliminated oversight by the attorney general and removed a $50 annual fee that every physician in the commonwealth would have had to pay into the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Prescription Report system, which monitors prescriptions in the effort to prevent overuse of painkillers and other potentially addictive drugs. But problems persist.
This law, or some variation thereof, is clearly needed. It’s been estimated prescription pain medication, distributed by street dealers, “pill mills” and what Gov. Steve Beshear called “pill pushers in white coats,” are responsible for killing three Kentuckians every day. House Bill 1 was designed to make these dangerous drugs more difficult to obtain and abuse.
Since taking effect last month, the law has indeed limited access. Unfortunately, it’s also created an exasperating obstacle course for people who legitimately seek pharmaceutical help for chronic and acute conditions; there’s more paperwork for medical providers, already stressed out from daily battles to clear payment for the treatments their patients require.
A keystone of the law – checking new prescriptions against KASPER online records to minimize redundancy – may be the easiest part. Dr. Shawn Jones, president of the Kentucky Medical Association, told legislators he’s more worried about other provisions that could force doctors to perform a physical, write a treatment plan and discuss medical risks before writing a simple prescription for drugs like Ambien, Valium and Xanax.
Patients who need long-term prescriptions for chronic pain even have to get periodic drug screenings at a cost of $200 or more, not covered by Medicare, said Dr. Gregory Hood, governor of the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Physicians. Some desperate people reportedly have turned to alcohol for self-medication.
Lee Higginbotham, chief operating officer of the Frankfort Regional Medical Center, also has problems with the new law. He told The State Journal’s Kevin Wheatley the hospital has heard complaints from people who feel they’ve been treated like felonious junkies when they just wanted some relief. If you break your arm on a weekend and have to wait for surgical treatment the following week, you may have to jump through regulatory hoops to get enough pain pills for the waiting period.
People suffering pain and anxiety should not have to pay the price because pushers, exploitative clinics and, yes, some unethical doctors, sought to make bucks off habitual drug users. Most doctors, in our opinion, want what’s best for their patients and should be allowed to exercise their own judgment based on medical training and experience.
The endless bureaucratization of health care is making life miserable for providers and patients alike. Legislators need to put the pill bill back on the table and take a scalpel to its excessive red tape. There must be some common-sense way of cracking down on drug dealers and rogue physicians without inflicting collateral damage on average folks who just want to live reasonably free from pain.