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Naturopaths could prescribe drugs if they collaborate with a medical doctor under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday. The measure would also let naturopathic doctors perform minor surgery.
Scott Luper, a Fairbanks naturopath, said the bill would eliminate the need for patients to go back and forth between a naturopath and a medical doctor for prescriptions, such as antibiotics, hormones or blood pressure medication.
"That's a lot of added expense," Luper said.
Naturopaths, who are required to be licensed in Alaska, generally prefer using nutrition, herbs and similar noninvasive methods to treat problems, but say they do not oppose using drugs when necessary.
Advocates of the legislation say naturopaths undergo training that to some extent parallels that of medical doctors and is more lengthy than that of nurse practitioners, who are allowed to prescribe drugs.
Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, is sponsoring the bill.
The Alaska State Medical Association opposes the bill, saying training for naturopaths is less rigorous than that for physicians.
The latest version is intended as a compromise that would allow the alternative practitioners to write prescriptions only if they have a written collaborative agreement with a medical doctor.
"To address their concerns, we agreed to have M.D.'s work with us," Luper said.
The requirement for collaborative agreements is similar to what is required for physician assistants to prescribe drugs, he said.
The president of the state medical association, Juneau internist Alex Malter, said the group still opposes the bill despite the revisions. The medical doctors' group contends that naturopaths receive less practical training in the use of prescription drugs than nurse practitioners or physician assistants.