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Halting pills, or patients?



Gov. Steve Beshear says House Bill 1, the “pill mill bill” he signed into law in July, is working as intended. Recently, the governor said, “We knew that this bill would have an immediate impact on thwarting the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs in our state, and the statistics over the last few months are already showing progress.”

Oh? What statistics are those? Does he have some hard numbers that show drug abuse is down or the illegal drug trade has left the state? Those were the bill’s objectives, after all. But the governor hasn’t produced any evidence that either is taking place.

No, the statistics Beshear refers to are these: Since July, 10 of the 44 pain management centers in Kentucky have closed and pain med prescriptions in the commonwealth have fallen between 6 percent and 9 percent.

That doesn’t prove the new law is working. It more likely shows that many people suffering chronic pain and other maladies are not getting the medications they need, either because of reduced access or because they refuse to submit to mandatory drug screenings that treat them like potential criminals.

The numbers probably also mean many conscientious doctors have done what they said they would do if the onerous law passed — stop writing prescriptions for “scheduled” drugs. The new law lays expensive and time-consuming requirements on doctors and puts their licenses at risk if they don’t follow the new regulations to the letter. Some physicians view the requirements as an invasion of patients’ privacy that pre-empts the doctor-patient relationship.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Insurance is trying to force insurance companies to cover periodic urine tests for patients with long-term prescriptions. After the bill was signed into law, it ran into a snag when some insurers refused to pay for the mandatory screens because they are not medically necessary. But the state has declared the tests necessary — though for law enforcement purposes, not patient treatment. …

One state official says of the new law, “It not only puts the brakes on doctor shoppers, it also improves patient care.” That’s a premature conclusion. All the law may actually be doing is hurting patients.

— The Paducah (Ky.) Sun



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