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President Ryan Hall | Only medical professionals should write prescriptions for you and your family

Thursday, February 27, 2020  
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Only medical professionals should write prescriptions for you and your family | Opinion

There is a dangerous idea making its way through the Florida Legislature. Rather shockingly, during an ongoing opioid crisis, some in the Florida Legislature want to allow individuals with no medical training to write prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines.

Who are these individuals? Psychologists. The average person may not understand that there is an important difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. 

A psychiatrist is a physician — a medical doctor who attended medical school and participates in at least four years of intensive supervised clinical training to be competent in prescribing medication, as well as understanding medication interactions for all types of medications, not just mental health medicines.

A psychologist is also well-educated and well-trained but primarily to be a psychotherapist. Their training is in statistics, research and psychotherapy. They do not have the same educational and practical background that a physician psychiatrist has.

If you or a loved one requires the services of a psychiatrist, you are potentially dealing with a condition such as depression, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, dementia, developmental disorders or PTSD. A psychiatrist evaluates both a patient’s mental health and their physical health. 

A psychiatrist is trained to rule out other medical conditions that may mimic a mental health disorder — such as hypothyroidism, which may present with symptoms similar to depression. A psychiatrist is trained to treat mental health problems and use medicines when appropriate for patients with co-occurring medical conditions such as heart problems, kidney disease or liver difficulties.

Mental health diagnosis is more than just looking at symptoms, but includes trying to learn the underlying causes of the symptoms, whether brought on by a physiological disease state, a side effect from a drug that was prescribed for a physiological condition (for example some acne and allergy medications can induce depression and other mental health type symptoms), or a more traditional situational stressor or life event. The job of a psychiatrist is to evaluate and understand the underlying causes of the mental health condition.

This is why psychiatrists go to medical school and are in hands-on supervised residencies for so long.

It is vital to understand that psychiatrists and psychologists oftentimes work closely to help patients get better, and at times, aspects of their work — such as psychotherapy —overlap. But there are also times their training and roles significantly diverge. 

I have immense respect for the role psychologists play in helping patients get well. But they are not medical doctors, and should not be allowed to write prescriptions for things like opioids, benzodiazepines, mood stabilizers, antidepressants or anti-psychotic medications.

It’s a needless risk to the people of Florida and one not worth taking.

Dr. Ryan C.W. Hall is the president of the Florida Psychiatric Society.

This article was published in the TC Palm on 2/11/2020 and the Tallahassee Democrat on 2/27/2020

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