Idaho has about 120 practicing psychiatrists. Access to them is so poor that the federal government has deemed the entire state a shortage area, according to The Idaho Statesman.

A state bill scheduled for a hearing Monday aims to tap the roughly 260 psychologists in Idaho to ease that shortage by allowing some psychologists to prescribe drugs for mental-health disorders.

But the associations that represent doctors and psychiatrists oppose the proposal, saying it wouldn't be safe for patients and that a better alternative is to attract or train more Idaho psychiatrists.

The idea isn't new. The Department of Defense tried giving some pharmacology-educated psychologists the ability to prescribe drugs in the 1990s. The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology wrote an analysis of the project in May 1998, finding that the participants "filled critical needs, and they performed with excellence wherever they were placed ... filled different niches and brought unique perspectives to their various assignments."

There were no adverse effects reported during the pilot project, although the analysis noted "essentially unanimous agreement that the (psychologists) were weaker medically than psychiatrists."

If the Idaho bill were to pass this session, doctorate-level psychologists who also complete a master's degree and training in psychopharmacology could become "prescribing psychologists." Over the next 10 years, Farber estimates about 40 psychologists would be allowed to offer medication to their psychotherapy clients.

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