House Speaker Greg Stumbo made a good point about some Kentucky doctors overprescribing pain pills.
"It's obvious that it's happening."
It's obvious because Kentucky sees the results daily. Drug overdoses, property crimes, swollen prison populations, crowded court dockets, waiting lists for addiction treatment, ruptured families, etc., etc.
So, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, wondered, why isn't the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure more aggressively rooting out those pill-pushing physicians? Why wasn't the board using KASPER, a registry that tracks prescriptions for controlled substances, to target regions with high pain pill prescription rates?
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Good question. Sadly, the answer given at a legislative committee meeting was at best confusing. The board's attorney said the KASPER data it gets from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which maintains the system, is not specific enough to be helpful and that the cabinet has said it doesn't have the legal authority to analyze the data more thoroughly.
The board said it only uses KASPER for information on doctors who are already under investigation. It could not say how many doctors' licenses had been revoked for over-prescribing pain pills.
The board's executive director, Bill Schmidt, also said it doesn't necessarily have the staff to do the data analysis. The board currently employs 20 people, five of them investigators, to police about 10,000 physicians. The board's $2.65 million annual budget comes entirely from license fees paid by medical personnel.
Stumbo, who comes from a part of the state hard hit by prescription drug abuse, seemed to want action not explanations.
Raise the fees if you need to hire more people; if the board won't police over-prescribing physicians then hand that job to another agency.
As Stumbo said, it's obvious we have a problem. In KASPER it's also obvious that Kentucky has a tool that could direct investigators to doctors who might be prescribing too many pain pills.
It seems equally obvious that using that tool to address a problem that's destroying lives and costing our state dearly is not only reasonable but essential.