State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), pictured in this February photo, pushed legislation through the Senate Thursday that would grant psychologists authority to prescribe mental-illness medications to patients, who now can only get those drugs through their physicians or psychiatrists. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
SPRINGFIELD-A plan to enable psychologists to prescribe anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs moved out of the Illinois Senate Thursday over objections from groups representing physicians and psychiatrists.
The proposal sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) passed the Senate 37-10, with four members voting present. The legislation, Senate Bill 2187, now moves to the House.
"I used to oppose this bill. I am now the sponsor and am a firm believer this is a sensible way to provide access to mental health care to countless constituents who don't have it today," Harmon said.
Harmon said his legislation would address the "critical shortage of mental health professionals" that now exists in Illinois, giving patients in need of mental-health medication more avenues to safely acquire their drugs.
Under Harmon's plan, psychologists seeking to dispense mental-health prescriptions would have to be licensed to practice psychology by the state and hold a doctorate in psychology.
They also would need a master's degree in psychopharmacology, have five years experience treating patients and consult with patients' primary-care physicians.
If the plan were to pass the House and be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois would join Louisiana and New Mexico as the only states that now permit psychologists to prescribe mental-illness medications. The military also permits its psychologists to dispense psychotropic drugs, Harmon said.
"For all of this time, there has not been one single complaint or incident of which we've been aware where there's been a failure in the system, where a psychologist has prescribed a medicine that has compromised a patient's safety," Harmon said, referring to the track record in states that now allow the practice.
Among those opposing the legislation was Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), who worried psychologists wouldn't necessarily have the medical training to understand the side effects of mental-illness medication or how the drugs interact with other medications that a patient might be taking.
"My main concern...is that the core nature of the training of psychologists is not in the physical sciences," Radogno said.
The Illinois State Medical Society urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, warning earlier this month that empowering psychologists with prescription-writing authority would "put patients at risk." The group remains opposed to the legislation.
"Simply requiring minimal instruction in pharmacology, neuroscience and physiology independent of a professional's overall education and training is far from adequate and does not prepare a person to treat a patient as a medical doctor would," the group said in a statement