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Peralta: No cause to lead way on psilocybin therapy

I wanted to take a moment to respond to Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla’s recent Viewpoints cover, which expressed his opinion, both as a policymaker and as a potential manufacturer, about Oregon’s new psilocybin therapy law.

Although I agree with much of what he said about the potential for psilocybin therapy, I believe he glossed over the downside of being an early implementer and misconstrued some of the facts of clinical trials and Oregon’s program.

For example, he cited a Department of Veterans Affairs study on psilocybin use. But the VA study involved therapy sessions conducted under the direct joint supervision of a medical doctor and licensed psychologist.

More importantly, it screened out people who had histories of drug and alcohol impairment, bi-polar disorder, underlying health conditions and/or family suicides. Out of 820 applicants, only 27 were enrolled.

By contrast, Oregon’s law allows anyone to seek treatment. And it allows anyone with a high school degree and something like 120 hours of psilocybin training, which amounts to three 40-hour weeks of coursework, to provide treatment.

As I see it, that’s allowing someone to basically combine a task currently requiring the credentials of a physician’s assistant or physician — prescribing — with a task requiring the credentials of an M.A. or Ph.D. psychologist — therapy.

Other studies conducted by the VA were also cited. They also involved both Ph.D. psychologists and licensed physicians.

I believe there is a legitimate concern about poorly trained people providing mental health services in our community. Though these services may have a sound basis, they may not be effectively delivered.

So far, no previously existing school of higher education has signed up to provide psilocybin training in Oregon. What’s more, none of the schools that did sign up are accredited or insurable.

Because of the terms of the law, the state Board of Higher Education had to provide training applicants a waiver to operate without the insurance required of all other professional and post-secondary educational programs. As a result, these non-accredited schools could charge clients tens of thousands of dollars, and duck repayment in the event they go belly up.

The mechanics of administering the new psilocybin law were included in the ballot measure itself. It provided the three options local units of government can take:

Do nothing and allow the law to take effect as planned in their jurisdiction. Give voters a chance to enact either a two-year moratorium or a permanent ban.

McMinnville residents voted in favor of the psilocybin measure, so I was not willing to support a ban in my capacity as a McMinnville city councilor. However, due to concerns about implementation, I was not willing either to put McMinnville on the leading edge of the new program without giving voters a chance to put it on hold until they see how it plays out in other places first.

On the other end of the spectrum, many local jurisdictions, including Polk County and the neighboring cities of Newberg, Independence and Keizer, opted to submit an outright ban to their voters.

I believe Mac did the right thing in offering voters a two-year pause option. That way, we can see what works and what doesn’t, and give the state time to iron out any bugs, before we begin to implement psilocybin therapy here.

Sal Peralta is running unopposed for re-election to the McMinnville City Council in the November general election.

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