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Shumlin Administration Wants To Expand Prescription Authority of Naturopaths

Currently naturopathic physicians have a limited ability to prescribe drugs for their patients but a new law passed by the Legislature last session greatly expands this authority.

The rules promulgating this new law are now being considered by the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee and Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen is strongly supporting this plan.

“So I think it’s sufficiently protected of the public health we have a regulatory system that regulates naturopaths as they do physicians, as they do physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and again this is a voluntary thing that Vermonters choose to go see them,” said Chen. “I think this change will be most beneficial in terms of how they can be taken care of by the naturopath.

Essentially they are following the same exact protocols that physicians are using - Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen

And Chen says his personal research on this issue has persuaded him to expand the prescription authority of the naturopathic physicians.

“For me to make that decision I looked at their education, I looked at the training that they go through I made calls and discussed how they treat a diabetic in their clinic,” said Chen. “And essentially they’re following the same exact protocols that physicians are using.”

Paul Harrington is the executive director of the Vermont Medical Society - a group that represents many doctors in the state. He’s concerned that the new law allows naturopathic physicians to prescribe drugs outside of their areas of expertise.

“The Medical Society believes that they don’t have the academic or clinical training,” said Harrington. “And have a grave concern regarding patient safety that they may be prescribing drugs they are not familiar with.”

And Harrington says there’s a good reason why no other state allows this approach to be used.

“They’re only about 16 states that license the naturopaths some of those don’t allow for any prescribing of controlled substances,” said Harrington. “Vermont would be the only one, the only state in the country that would allow naturopaths to prescribe all drugs.”

The Administrative Rules committee initially rejected the implementation of this new law, in part, because some members didn’t feel that the Secretary of State’s office had complied with the research and informational requirements of the law.

Secretary of State Jim Condos disagrees with these findings and he plans to further discuss this issue with lawmakers on Thursday.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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