By Laura Ungar

Before writing prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, Kentucky doctors will have to examine patients, take full medical histories and check electronic prescription records to avoid prescribing to addicts.

Nonphysicians won’t be able to own pain clinics, and doctors convicted of drug felonies won’t be able to get licenses to practice.

Those are just a few of the new rules in a wide-ranging state law Gov. Steve Beshear signed last week that aims to attack a pill-abuse epidemic that kills almost 1,000 Kentuckians a year. House Bill 1 passed in the waning hours of the General Assembly’s special session, placing Kentucky among a growing number of states enacting laws to combat the scourge, including West Virginia and Tennessee earlier this year.

“This bill is a huge accomplishment that will save Kentuckians’ lives,” Beshear said. “House Bill 1 couldn’t get to my desk quickly enough.”

Proponents call the legislation one of most crucial bills of the year, driven in part by The Courier-Journal’s “Prescription for Tragedy” series.

“Extensive coverage by The Courier-Journal revealed the depth of the drug-related damage that has swept across Kentucky,” said Pierce Whites, general counsel for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who introduced the bill. “The special reports showed that we were all in this tragedy together, and had to solve it together, too.”

But lawmakers said they didn’t get everything they wanted — most notably, moving the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, or KASPER, from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general’s office. They had argued the move would result in a more thorough crackdown on pill-pushing doctors and rogue pain clinics.

“I would have preferred something stronger,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

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