Politics & Government

Competing proposals to regulate pain clinics advance in House and Senate

FRANKFORT — Differing proposals to regulate pain clinics in Kentucky wound their way through the House and a Senate committee on Thursday, but leaders of both chambers predicted they will strike a compromise to tackle the scourge of prescription drug abuse.

An average of 82 people a month die from prescription drug abuse in Kentucky.

The House approved on an 81-to-7 vote a bill that, among other things, would move the state's electronic monitoring system of dispensed drugs from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office.

The attorney general, the Kentucky State Police and the state's medical licensure board would be called upon to work together, sharing information related to suspected prescription abuse.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on an 8-to-1 vote a bill to regulate pain clinics. One member did not vote.

Senate Bill 2 primarily differs from House Bill 4 in that it keeps the monitoring system — known as the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, or KASPER — in the state cabinet.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, sponsor of HB 4 and a former attorney general, said it is important to make KASPER "a law-enforcement tool."

Under his bill, all physicians and pharmacists would be required to register with KASPER. As of 2010, less than a third of prescribers and less than a fourth of pharmacists had accounts with KASPER.

Once registered, prescribers would be required to run KASPER reports on all new patients and periodic checks on those they already see.

Stumbo's bill also would require pain clinics to be owned by a licensed physician or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.

The Senate bill would require that doctors own pain-management clinics, but Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said it should be changed to allow non-physician owners of such clinics to continue ownership if they have not received any prior violations.

He said he may try to change the bill on the Senate floor.

The sponsor of SB 2, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said he had to change his bill to get it out of the Senate committee.

His bill initially required doctors to use the state's electronic prescription monitoring system in dispensing narcotics and to get a report on the patient before writing prescriptions.

But Higdon changed it at the request of the Kentucky Medical Association so that it would require the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board to come up with regulations within 60 days on how doctors should use the system.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, chastised the KMA, which represents medical doctors, for trying to "gut the bill." He said he was so upset that he has withdrawn as a co-sponsor of the measure.

Bill Doll, a lobbyist for the KMA, said he was "saddened" that Jones felt that way. He said if the KMA had "a silver bullet (to stop prescription drug abuse), we'd be happy to shoot it."

Higdon said he expected the issue will end up in a free conference committee in the final days of this year's legislative conference. A free conference committee is made up of representatives from both the House and Senate, who try to iron out differences between the two chambers.

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