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Should Naturopathic Doctors Be Allowed to Write Prescriptions?

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Some other states allow naturopaths to write prescriptions. But in Connecticut, a naturopath needs to write a referral.

You've probably heard of MDs, medical doctors, but what about another type of physician: NDs? Naturopathic doctors now want to be allowed prescribing rights in Connecticut.

Connecticut hosts one of only a handful of naturopathic medical colleges in North America at the University of Bridgeport. David Brady is vice provost there and he's also a naturopathic doctor who practices in Fairfield. "The modern naturopathic physician is really trained as a generalist," he said.

And while naturopath doctors can diagnose, order laboratory testing, and use botanical medicines to treat disease, what they can't do is write prescriptions.

"Clearly, there are times when a patient has a scenario or a situation where they really do need a medication," said Brady. "If they have an acute urinary tract infection - or they have Strep throat, or they have significantly elevated blood pressure -- persistently -- it's prudent to treat them with the right drug therapy."

Other states like Vermont and Maine allow naturopaths to write prescriptions. But in Connecticut, a naturopath needs to write a referral, which Brady says doesn't properly serve patients and undercuts the competency level of NDs -- who typically spend four years in post-graduate medical training.

But David Emmel, an ophthalmologist from the Connecticut State Medical Society, said, today -- naturopathic training doesn't give students enough real-world clinical exposure that's needed to effectively prescribe modern drugs. He said MDs get that during internship and residencies.

"The burden is really on the naturopath," Emmel said. "[If] they want to enter this arena, to show that they're changing what they're doing and to find ways of getting their people trained," he said. "They need to have better clinics. They don't have those. They need to find ways of collaborating better with MDs and bridging that gap."

Currently, both sides are debating the issue before the Department of Public Health. Naturopath David Brady said NDs are open to temporary prescribing arrangements with medical doctors or other clinical professionals -- and he hopes to bring a compromise back before the state legislature next year.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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