I say that because we are starting to see some true progress when it comes to kicking pill pushers out of the state for good and putting the brakes on an epidemic that claims the lives of at least three citizens a day across the commonwealth.
As Gov. Steve Beshear noted recently, 10 pain clinics have closed since the law took effect in July, prescriptions for some of the most abused drugs are dropping and numerous investigations are closing in on rogue doctors who prescribe recklessly. And that’s just the start.
If there is one thing I have learned during my time in the Capitol, however, it is that this issue is always evolving. When I was attorney general, for example, Internet pharmacies were prominent, so much so that those driving the trucks for overnight package companies would actually be followed by addicts who could not wait an extra minute for a shipment. When we stopped that method, drug seekers traveled to states like Florida, where oversight was lax.
As those states began putting a stop to that trend, we saw drug diversion spike here in our own backyard. These pill mills were often easy to spot, too; you just had to look for a line of “patients” trailing outside a doctor’s door.
House Bill 1, which the General Assembly approved in April, puts a stop to that practice. It takes full advantage of what has become one of the nation’s top prescription drug monitoring programs — known by its acronym, KASPER — and it gives law enforcement and medical licensing boards alike the information and oversight they need to find pill-pushing doctors and those who try to game the system to feed their addiction.
To be successful, this effort is requiring the help of all doctors who prescribe medicine, because they are the gatekeepers. No program can be truly effective without having everyone on the same page. If we knew who the bad guys were from the beginning, we wouldn’t need any laws at all.
This legislation does not hinder proper medical care. Doctors still have the same authority to do what they think is medically necessary, and those who claim otherwise are not being truthful. We just want to make sure that they monitor their patients’ prescription drug history as all reputable doctors should. A survey of those who use KASPER found that a quick check — which usually takes just seconds — often helps them re-think what they prescribe.
While the legislation’s concept is clear, there has been some confusion in the wake of proposed regulations that, it is crucial to note, were written by physicians and not legislators. These licensing boards wanted the authority to fill in the fine print to carry the law out, and we in the legislature agreed because they are the experts. It is ironic, then, that most of the complaints I have heard from physicians are not about the law so much as the rules their own licensing board wrote.
Fortunately, regulations are much easier to change than law, and the licensing board is currently rewriting the rules. At the same time, there is a legislative oversight committee that is studying what improvements the general assembly may need to make in 2013. That was expected from the beginning, because most landmark laws require tweaking once we see how they are being carried out. House Bill 1 is no different.
Still, after seeing what we have been able to accomplish in a short period of time, I’m more convinced than ever that we are on the right path when it comes to putting a true dent in the prescription drug epidemic. Those who believe otherwise are, to be blunt, just wrong. Some doctors may think of it as bitter medicine, but as they might tell their patients: It’s the only way things can get better.