FRANKFORT, Ky. — House Speaker Greg Stumbo called Tuesday for lawmakers to support legislation aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse despite opposition from the Kentucky Medical Association.
Stumbo cited research that suggests doctors are prescribing high doses of painkillers that are being abused by addicts, many of whom are dying from overdoses. In Kentucky, more people die from drug overdoses than car wrecks, forcing lawmakers to take a serious look at legislation that would make it easier for police and prosecutors to identify unscrupulous doctors.
"It is a reasonable, fair and much needed law that will encourage doctors to ensure that these powerful drugs are used in appropriate cases and not freely given out and diverted to the black market," he said in a memo to lawmakers.
Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene in Frankfort on Thursday for the final day of this year's legislative session. The prescription drug bill is one of several matters on the agenda.
Under the legislation, all doctors would be required to use the prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER. It also would require that pain management clinics be owned by physicians licensed in Kentucky. That's an effort to root out "pill mills" run by operators who have little or no medical expertise but are doling out massive amounts of painkillers.
Stumbo's memo was in response to a KMA letter circulated over the weekend that opposed putting the attorney general's office in charge of monitoring the prescribing practices of Kentucky physicians.
Dr. Shawn Jones, president of the Kentucky Medical Association, said in the letter that physicians support closing "illegitimate pain clinics" and the proposed requirement that they be owned by doctors.
But Jones said they do not support moving the drug monitoring system to the attorney general's office from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Jones said the Kentucky Medical Association is concerned about "highly sensitive personal medical information regarding individual Kentuckians" being available to employees in the attorney general's office and to law enforcement personnel.
"Access to such data should be limited to government agencies charged with public health, not law enforcement," Jones said.
Jones also objected to what he called a "provider tax" that was originally in the legislation, taken out, then put back in. The legislation would allow the attorney general's office to institute a $50 a year fee on physicians to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the prescription monitoring system.
"Drug abuse is a societal problem, one not created by physicians," Jones wrote. "While the KMA supports efforts to combat abuse, it is wholly inappropriate to single out physicians as the source of funding for a governmentally mandated program such as KASPER."
Jones also said a provision that requires all physicians to use the drug-monitoring system not just for painkillers but also for anti-anxiety medications may push some doctors to stop prescribing such medications.
"Some people may claim that is a good thing, but when access to care for those in need becomes limited, that opinion will change rapidly," he wrote. "We cannot ignore the collateral damage and unintended consequences attendant to such mandates."
The legislation is House Bill 4.