We face many serious problems in Springfield. One that we are particularly concerned about is our mental health care system in crisis. That is why we are so determined to address it through an important tool we call RxP, and why it is critical we take on directly the troubling myths about it.

We were approached about carrying legislation to give psychologists prescription authority many months ago. We both had our initial doubts, as did our excellent Republican co-sponsors Rep. Raymond Poe and Sen. Dave Syverson. No legislator wants to be flippant when patient safety is involved, especially when there are legitimate concerns that people are being overmedicated as it is.

We write to explain why our concerns have been completely addressed and why we are asking our colleagues to support the new version of Senate Bill 2187, granting specially trained psychologists the ability to help deal with so many people who now see their mental illnesses go untreated. It is time for RxP in Illinois.

We hear our critics say the legislation does not require enough medical training. Yet under this latest version of SB 2187, prescribing psychologists will be well-prepared after their training and clinical work to safely prescribe.

Beyond their years of schooling to become licensed psychologists, they will go through rigorous courses in everything from anatomy, physiology and biology to clinical medicine, psychopharmacology and health assessment. They will emerge knowing how medications for mental illness intersect with behavioral therapy and how to treat patients based on their specific problem and the best path to help them get better.

Then we are putting in place a two-year conditional license very similar to a medical residency. Here, prescribing psychologists will work with a supervising physician to talk about patient symptoms, diagnoses and treatment plans, including appropriate medication types and levels. 

RxP training has been an unquestioned success in other states and in the U.S. military, and now we are adding another layer of protection that can become a model for other states to follow.

The psychologist-physician partnership is a critical element for our effort. Legislators have given advanced-practice nurses prescribing authority under state law if they have a collaboration agreement with a participating physician. We are mirroring that arrangement with our prescribing psychologist proposal.

Throughout the course of the training, the collaborating physician would meet regularly with the training psychologist to discuss patient treatment. The physician can set limits on, or requirements for, the psychologist’s authority to prescribe, and state regulators will have appropriate oversight as well.

We hear the excuses that the training is not appropriate or would be an endorsement of lower-tiered care. But these arguments put fear ahead of fact. The truth is there are many layers we are putting in place to make sure psychologists can prescribe safely and to ensure patient safety is always the top priority.

We also hear that there are other routes to promote mental health care, such as telepsychiatry. We are not presenting RxP as an either-or choice, or as the only solution for this massive problem. It is one important step of many we should take to address this crisis.

Without RxP, too many people will go without mental health care. They will end up in jails like in Cook County, where Sheriff Tom Dart supports RxP because he calls his jail the state’s largest mental health provider — a sad statement. Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Greg Sullivan sums up his association’s support for this initiative as the result of sheriffs seeing firsthand that these services are essential to meeting dire needs. 

“We have to think outside the box on how we attack and repair the broken mental health system in this state. Through coordinated efforts, great things are accomplished,” he said.

We are hopeful this is the year Illinois takes a key step forward to help those with mental illness. RxP is the sensible path to move past the fear campaigns and toward the safe, comprehensive care our constituents deserve. 

State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and state Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) are sponsors of Senate Bill 2187.

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