Polis signs prescriptive authority bill for psychologists

By Renata Hill, Moodfuel News

If clinical psychologists are willing to participate in the rigorous training required, Colorado law now supports them in writing prescriptions for their patients

Colorado has become the sixth state to allow psychologists who undergo rigorous training and supervision to prescribe psychotropic medications for their patients. Gov. Jared Polis signed HB23-1071 into law on Mar. 3.

Lawmakers debated and listened to testimony from supporters and detractors regarding the ways in which mental healthcare standards would be affected if psycholigists prescribed psychotropics.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who testified before the state House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services committee in support of the bill, calls prescribing psychologists RxPs. In a policy brief, he said RxPs have provided active duty military and other federal agency personnel medication-assisted psychotherapy successfully since the 1990s.

Many medical organizations pushed back against the measure, including the Colorado Medical Society, the Colorado Chapter of the American Psychiatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Colorado Chapter of the College of Emergency Physicians. Yet, Singer cited evidence showing that "RxPs prescribe as safely as – and possibly more conservatively than psychiatrists. They also tend to continue talk psychotherapy with their patients, whereas recent research shows less than 11% of psychiatrists engage in talk therapy these days."

Amelia Federico is a MSU Denver student and a policy fellow for Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy organization for healthcare, finances, civic engagement and higher education. Federico lives with severe depression and urged state lawmakers to pass HB23-1071 in her testimony. β€œIt is no secret that young adults are facing a mental health crisis and we must, as a collective, take action on this fact to make sure mental health supports are accessible,” she said in an interview with CPR News.

The state Senate unanimously approved the bipartisan bill and it was fast-tracked in the House to Polis' desk. He had indicated earlier that he viewed the legislation favorably.

According to the new law he signed, in order for existing doctoral level clinical psychologists to prescribe these medications, they will need to:

  • Acquire a two-year master of science degree in clinical psychopharmacology
  • Complete an exacting practicum under strict supervision
  • Pass the national standardized Psychopharmacology Exam for Psychologists
  • Undergo an independent peer review, and
  • Complete 40 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

One issue that hasn't been addressed is the lack of clinical psychopharmacology programs available to train new RxPs for Colorado. Only five schools in the nation offer the program and none are located here. The closest is at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, though several schools offer online or hybrid programs with brief residencies.

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus does have a long-running, grant-funded division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology with five faculty who teach in the departments of medicine and pharmacology. Word spread in Feb. that if psychologist prescriptive authority became law, CU Anschutz would transform the division into a full-fledged master's degree program. There is no comment yet from CU Anschutz on their plans.

New Mexico was the first state to welcome RxPs in 2002. Since then, Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois and Idaho have followed. Legislation is also progressing in Arizona, Hawaii and Washington.

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Supporting people in recovery from trauma and suicidal intensity is my Why. I live differently abled & am proudly part-Indigenous (Mvskoke).
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