Psychiatrists urge Wilson to make newer brain disease medications more available

News Editors & Medical Writers

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--May 8, 1997--The California Psychiatric Association today sent an open letter to Governor Pete Wilson asking him to order the Department of Health Services to make newer, breakthrough mental health medication more widely available under the state's Medi-Cal program. "For some reason, the Department of Health Services is opposed to making these more effective drugs available, even though several independent analyses of the policy have shown it would save the state money, allow more patients to go back to work, and cause fewer side effects," said Thomas K. Ciesla, MD, President of the California Psychiatric Association.

Recently, psychiatrists in two states have been held liable by patients suing over the side effects caused by their mental health medications. In both lawsuits, the patients alleged that both the state and the psychiatrists were liable for the side effects suffered from the medication. In California, the state's Medi-Cal program requires at least two failures on older, 1950s-era medications before approving a patient for use on newer drugs. "This current Medi-Cal policy is absolutely ridiculous," continued Ciesla. "It places patients at risk, it places the state and psychiatrists at risk for side effects-related lawsuits, and rather than saving money, it costs the state far more money than it ends up saving." A recent analysis by the University of Southern California found that if California adopted a policy similar to those in the 48 other states which allow open access to the newer class of 'atypical' brain medications to treat psychosis, the state would save at least $17 million.

Due to dramatic new advances in brain medications, with the creation of drugs like olanzapine and risperidone, the states of Texas and Hawaii have completely overhauled their mental health care systems, making the newer medications the first line of treatment for patients. Numerous studies, including one published in last month's American Journal of Psychiatry, have found the newer drugs to be far more effective -- and safe -- in treating illnesses like schizophrenia. A bill to change the state's Medi-Cal policy (AB 659 - Miller/Polanco) is currently being opposed by the state's Department of Health Services. The bill was recently passed by the Assembly's Health Committee on a bi-partisan 19 - 0 vote. The issue will next be heard in the Assembly's Budget Sub-Committee No. 1 on May 12th.

CONTACT: California Psychiatric Association Conni Barker or Barbara Gard, 916/442-5196

[ Home] [News]