In 2007, Health Canada proposed a new framework to regulate prescriptive authority for controlled substances, titled New Classes of Practitioners Regulations (NCPR). The new regulatory framework was passed in November 2012; it gives nurse practitioners (NPs), midwives and podiatrists the authority to prescribe controlled medications under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is expected that authorizing NPs to write prescriptions for certain controlled substances commonly used in primary care will enhance flexibility and timeliness in primary care service delivery. Studies from the United States have shown positive outcomes in primary care access, decreased healthcare costs and the evolution and advancement of the NP role when prescriptive authority was expanded to include controlled substances. The purpose of this paper is to examine how NPs' prescriptive authority for controlled substances affects access to primary care and NP role development. Three key issues identified from the experience of one group of NPs in the United States (access to care, professional autonomy and prescriber knowledge) offer insight into the practice changes that may be anticipated for NPs in Canada now that they have acquired prescriptive authority for controlled substances. Recommendations are offered to assist nurse leaders and educators to best support NPs as they take on this new and important role responsibility.
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