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DC bill seeks to add controlled substances to OD scope of practice

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Legislation introduced into the District of Columbia (D.C.) last month seeks to update multiple allied health professionals’— including optometrists’ (ODs’)—scope of practice.

I need some background info first.

Zeroing in on D.C.-practicing ODs, let’s take note that this area of the country has one of the most restrictive scopes of practice.

In fact, the last legal update to their scope of practice was just over 25 years ago (April 1998, to be exact) when licensed ODs were authorized to treat and manage glaucoma along with administering injections for anaphylaxis.

So, needless to say, it’s been a while.

Indeed. So talk about the new bill.

Introduced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (and jointly developed with the Optometric Society of the District of Columbia [OSDC]) on October 20, 2023—the bill was sponsored by chairman councilmember Phil Mendelson—the Health Occupations Revision General Amendment Act of 2023 (B 25-0545) seeks to “update scopes of practice either for clarity or to reflect current practice trends” for ODs, podiatrists, and pharmacists.

More specifically, according to Bowser, “the scope of optometry will authorize optometrists to prescribe controlled substances which are rational to the diagnosis of the human eye and its adjacent structures,” she wrote in a letter to the D.C. Council.

How would this change ODs’ current scope?

Well, D.C.-practicing ODs are currently only permitted to prescribe oral immunosuppressives or medications for glaucoma—despite the fact that optometry programs from accredited schools and universities have been providing education on how to practice appropriate  use of controlled substances.

That’s crazy. Do other states have this same limitation?

Only three … out of 50: Maryland, New York, and Hawaii.

The remaining 47 states have given ODs the jurisdiction to prescribe/administer such controlled substances through legislative action.

Gotcha. So would this be a stand-alone bill, or an amendment?

If passed, it would be an amendment to the D.C. Health Occupations Revision Act (HORA) of 1985 (D.C. Law 6-99) that originally established a scope of practice and regulations for various allied health professions—and has already undergone a number of other amendments since it went into effect in 1986.

And what’s the update on its legal status?

Funny you should ask… a public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, December 7, 2023, at 11 am EST, that will be led by the D.C. Committee on Health.

Location: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC, 20004 (Hybrid in Wilson Building Room 500)

Click here to watch the hearing live.

Who’s participating?

As of Nov. 29, 38 witnesses have signed up to participate.

What if I want to contribute to this hearing?

For current practicing ODs unable to attend, they can provide a written statement to be included on the record, submitted through the Committee’s Hearing Management System.

Alternatively, ODs can call 202-430-6046 to leave a voicemail.

All records must be submitted no later by Thursday, December 21, 2023, at 5 pm EST.

Lastly… what does the OSDC have to say about this?

Historically speaking, D.C.-practicing ODs have been unable to provide their patients with the same level of care as other states’ ODs—often inconveniencing these patients with “multiple visits to multiple providers with increased costs and more time necessary to receive appropriate care,” said Michael P. Rosenblatt, OD, acting president of OSDC.

“With this bill, D.C. optometrists will finally be recognized as having prescriptive authority at the Board of Pharmacy,” he told Glance. “We have high hopes that this will be only the beginning [that] we need to finally allow optometrists the ability to fully practice and care for their patients and the residents of the District of Columbia.”


*Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, materials available herein are for general information purposes only.