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A woman waits for an elevator
Gina Manchego arrives at the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion for treatment with her doctor on Sept. 10, 2019, in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Community Health has integrated mental health care into 10 of its primary care clinics. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Psychologists in Colorado will be allowed to write prescriptions if they’re willing to obtain an additional two-year degree, under a new law signed Friday by Gov. Jared Polis. 

The measure is intended to increase access to mental health care in Colorado, which has a severe shortage of mental health professionals. Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, fought the legislation. 

The law creates a path for psychologists to write mental health prescriptions, requiring that they receive a postdoctoral master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology. They also would have to pass a national board exam, and go through a year of preceptorship under a licensed prescriber. For the following two years, they would have a conditional prescription certificate allowing them to prescribe medications only under the supervision of a consulting physician.

Once certified, psychologists would have to send test results, reports of side effects and prescription changes to their patients’ primary care physicians. 

New Mexico was the first state to set up a process to give psychologists authority to write prescriptions. That was about 20 years ago and New Mexico was followed by Idaho, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense, which allows its psychologists to prescribe medications for those in the military. 

The bill sailed through the Colorado legislature, despite hours of testimony in opposition from psychiatrists, who warned that nonmedical doctors should not write prescriptions. Psychologists countered that patients are waiting months to get appointments with psychiatrists and that psychologists see their patients far more frequently.

Polis said he was signing the measure Friday in his office with its bipartisan prime sponsors, Reps. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, and Mary Bradfield, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, and Sen. Cleave Simpson, an Alamosa Republican.

Jennifer Brown writes about mental health, the child welfare system, the disability community and homelessness for The Colorado Sun. As a former Montana 4-H kid, she also loves writing about agriculture and ranching. Brown previously...