New legislation benefits Pharmacists and patients

December 21, 2009
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Recent changes to the state’s longstanding Public Health Code now allow state pharmacists to fill prescriptions for controlled substances that come in from across the country.

Until the middle of November, Michigan pharmacists were restricted to filling those types of prescriptions that were either written by a physician licensed in the state, or by one who lived in a state adjacent to Michigan or in Illinois or Minnesota.

Interestingly enough, the latter group of physicians did not have to maintain an office in Michigan or “designate a place to meet patients or receive calls” in this state.

But a bill introduced last February by State Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, changed all that. House Bill 4161 was ratified by both chambers last month and immediately signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. A second ceremonial signing took place in Lansing Dec. 10.

“It allows pharmacists to fill controlled substance prescriptions from any state in the nation, which is really a good thing for pharmacists and for access for patients here,” said Jill Cobb, director of communications for the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

Controlled substances are closely monitored because the drugs can be highly addictive and may have harmful side effects for some patients.

Cocaine, methadone, opium and morphine are examples of the most-regulated category known as Schedule II drugs. The opposite end of the spectrum, called Schedule V drugs, includes pregabalin and pyrovalerone.

“Pharmacists are very careful about the dispensing and use of those types of medications, which are very important for patients that need them,” said Cobb.

The change the legislation made to the code is important to patients, especially seniors who leave the state for a warmer climate in the winter. Under the old code, if they received treatment for something that required a controlled substance, they couldn’t get that prescription filled or refilled in Michigan if it was prescribed by a physician in, say, Arizona, which isn’t one of the code’s border states.

“A lot of states have laws like this,” said Cobb of the recent legislation. “So it just opens up access.

“The same rules are in place. A patient has to have an established relationship with that physician, and there are certain protocols that have to be met. But patients have a wider access to be able to have their prescriptions filled,” she added. “And that’s a very good thing.”

The state Department of Community Health and the MPA supported the bill. A House legislative analysis backed MPA’s claim by noting that “most states allow pharmacists to fill prescriptions for controlled substances written by pharmacists from any state.”

The same analysis also looked at the economics involved with altering the code.

“In addition, given that tourism is a major industry in Michigan, attracting tourists from all over the nation, it may make more sense to lift the prohibition so that visitors can refill their prescriptions within the state if needed,” read the analysis.

“Since people tend to make other purchases while waiting for prescriptions to be filled, in-state pharmacies could make more sales, and more sales-tax revenue could be generated for the state,” the analysis continued.

Another House analysis, this one fiscal, reported there isn’t a monetary cost to state or local governments from the legislation.

Jesse Vivian, a pharmacist and attorney, will highlight another change the legislation makes to the code in an article scheduled to appear in next month’s MPA magazine.

“A Michigan licensed pharmacist may also fill and dispense any non-controlled substance prescription-only (federal legend) prescription from a D.O. or M.D. licensed in Canada,” wrote Vivian for the upcoming piece, “but not a controlled substance prescription.”

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