Senate committee addresses drug laws that hamper nursing home care

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The Senate Special Committee on Aging Wednesday held a listening session on ways federal rules on controlled substances negatively affect the ability of nurses to care for nursing home residents.

Current drug enforcement policies require many prescriptions for pain management medications, such as morphine, Vicodin or Percocet to be signed by a physician before they can be filled. Many in the nursing home field believe these laws cause unnecessary delays in residents receiving needed medications. Speakers at Wednesday's hearing argued that nurses should be able to fill prescriptions based on verbal orders from physicians, rather than the extra steps required by the Drug Enforcement Agency. These involve obtaining a physician signature, faxing the order to the pharmacy, and calling the pharmacy to confirm receipt before receiving and administering drugs to the patients.

Providers reacted positively to the meeting. In a statement, the American Health Care Association praised the committee for addressing the problem of pain medication delays. The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging urged the committee to support legislation designed to recognize “chart orders” and the functional role of nurses as the de facto agent of physicians whose patients reside in nursing facilities.

A new report from the Quality Care Coalition for Patients in Pain (QCCPP) released in conjunction with the hearing finds that, of the nearly 900 physicians, nurses and pharmacists surveyed, 65% say they have personally experienced unnecessary delays. In Ohio, where the DEA rules are most stringently enforced, delays were experienced by 86% of respondents.

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