FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear joined with the leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday to press for changes to Kentucky's new prescription drug law.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the powerful trio of Beshear, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo pushed legislation that would exempt patients in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice centers from rules intended to make it more difficult for addicts to get painkillers.
The panel approved the bill, which will move to the Senate for full consideration. The House passed the proposal on Wednesday. Beshear is expected to sign it if it clears the Senate.
Kentucky passed a sweeping prescription drug law last year in an effort to crack down on widespread prescription drug abuse in a state where more people are dying from overdoses than car crashes. Lawmakers are returning to the law to remedy unintended consequences that subjected the seriously ill and the elderly to the same scrutiny as would-be prescription drug traffickers.
Beshear praised Stivers and Stumbo and other lawmakers in Frankfort for the bipartisan effort to change to the law.
"This issue is about Kentucky and the health of Kentucky and the safety of Kentucky and the very lives of Kentuckians," Beshear said.
Beshear had urged lawmakers in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech in early February to make some minor changes to the prescription drug law to accommodate patients who are clearly not drug abusers or traffickers. But he warned against wholesale changes, saying the new prescription drug law has led to the closure of at least 10 pain management clinics and a significant decrease in the number of painkillers being prescribed.
The law also requires pain management clinics to be owned by licensed medical providers and that they have medical directors in charge. Already, at least 10 pain clinics have shut down since the law went into effect last July.
The law requires doctors, dentists, optometrists, registered nurses and podiatrists to check their patients' drug histories on the state's prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER, before writing prescriptions. The proposed changes to the law would exempt patients in hospitals and hospital care as well as people receiving cancer treatment, among others.
The Independent newspaper reported a decline in fatal prescription drug overdoses in two eastern Kentucky counties, which officials attributed to the new law.
Stivers, the Senate president, acknowledged the rare bipartisanship behind the bill.
"This is a prime example where there is no politics or socio-economic status to the bill," he said. "Individuals can come together and come up with a real solution."
The legislation is House Bill 217. AP staff writer Roger Alford contributed to this story.