New bill would allow Arizona psychologists to prescribe medication if passed

Those against the bill say there’s a huge difference in education and training that psychiatrists go through to understand the medical side of this.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 8:39 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A bill making its way through the Arizona legislature aims to improve access to mental health treatments by giving psychologists new power. It would allow them to prescribe drugs instead of reserving that power for psychiatrists or primary care doctors.

It’s a controversial idea that few states have tried. The argument here is psychologists often know their patients better and build more of a relationship with them, and it’s more convenient and financially affordable for a patient to get therapy services and medication in one stop.

But those against the bill say there’s a huge difference in education and training that psychiatrists go through to understand the medical side of this. “I get that question at least once a day. People are like remind me, you don’t prescribe right? Because this would be really helpful,” said Phoenix psychologist Melissa Estavillo.

Estavillo often spends years with her patients, but because she can’t prescribe medication, she has to refer them to psychiatrists, who she says are often booked. “There’s just simply not enough providers so this fills an important gap,” said Estavillo.

That’s why she supports Senate Bill 1457, which would allow psychologists with a specific certification to prescribe medication to their patients to treat mental disorders. But it wouldn’t be an overnight change. The bill would require more training and education to get the prescription certificate, including 80 hours of practice under a physician and another 450 hours in a classroom.

But psychiatrist Stephen Larry Mecham told the Senate last month that’s not enough. “What’s being described, I mean 80 hours. Let’s remind you that’s two weeks. 450 hours, that’s 12 weeks, far less than any of the students I work with,” said Mecham.

Other psychiatrists questioned what the bill would mean for the quality of care. “My opposition today is about protecting vulnerable populations, not making individuals with mental health conditions second class patients by allowing non medically trained persons to prescribe medications, which as we’ve heard are already over utilized,” said Pinal County psychiatrist Jasleen Chhatwal.

In response, Estavillo said much of their training to be a psychologist are hours spent in the hospital with psychiatrists. “My bit of training in the hospital I worked on a treatment team in the unit with psychiatrists and they would often talk about medications so we were really well versed,” said Estavillo. She said she hasn’t heard of any of her colleagues opposed to this, many of them mulling over whether they’d pursue the extra training to get certified. “I’m highly interested. I don’t know I’m 100% there that I would do that, but I’m such an advocate for this to happen because there’s need,” said Estavillo.

The bill did pass out of the Senate and is now making its way through the House. As of now, only six other states allow psychologists to prescribe medication. Colorado just signed this into law 11 days ago.