Sen. Kohl grills DEA nominee on pain medication

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said Wednesday he wants the nominee to lead the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to make it easier for seniors to get access to their pain medications.

Healthcare providers have complained that nursing-home patients are sometimes left in pain without their drugs because facilities don't want to run afoul of the country's strict drug laws. Kohl and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked the DEA to fix the problem in an October 2009 letter, but both lawmakers say they're unhappy with the progress since. 

"I would like to see much more progress made on this issue before you are confirmed," Kohl told nominee Michele Leonhart at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination.

Leonhart has been the acting administrator at DEA since 2007.

Kohl acknowledged that the DEA released new guidelines last month allowing physicians to authorize nurses at long-term care facilities to phone in prescriptions for certain medications. But Kohl wants further changes that would give nurses, who are responsible for the day-to-day care of patients, the ability to transmit prescriptions for more medications, including morphine.

Kohl has also been working on legislation that would grant nurses the authority to call in orders for pain killers after consultation with a patient's doctor. The bill would create a federal registration category for nursing homes under the DEA's jurisdiction and require special training for nursing-home staff members.

Kohl reminded Leonhart that he asked the DEA for comment on his draft legislation back in August, and has yet to receive a reply.