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Alaska supreme court upholds ban on naturopaths’ injecting vitamins

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The Alaska Supreme Court, in a March 16 decision, upheld a recent regulatory amendment by the state licensing agency which prohibited naturopaths from administering injectable vitamins and minerals, holding that the agency had not exceeded its authority in passing the amendment.

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thirteenofclubs/

(Alaska Association of Naturopathic Physicians v. State of Alaska, Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development)

While Alaska regulations controlling the practice of naturopathy prevent licensees from administering prescription drugs, practitioners and regulators disagreed on whether naturopaths were authorized to administer non-drug substances that required prescriptions: specifically, naturopaths maintained that they were authorized to administer injectable vitamins and minerals, substances that do not require a prescription if given orally.

In an attempt to definitively control such activity, in 2012, the state’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development amended the naturopath regulations to define “prescription drug” as any medicine requiring a prescription, which would prevent licensees from administering injectable vitamins.

The amended regulations also now specifically excluded prescription drugs from the definitions of “dietetics,” “herbal remedies,” and “homeopathic remedies,” substances that licensed naturopaths are allowed to administer.

In 2014, the Alaska Association of Naturopathic Physicians brought suit to challenge the newly-amended regulations. The relevant authorizing statute prevents naturopaths from the use of “prescription drug[s];” the Association argued that the Department’s expansion of that phrase to prohibit the use of “prescription medicine” was an impermissible overstepping of its authority.

The words “drug” and “medicine” have different meanings, the Association contended, and changing the regulatory language would prohibit naturopaths from administering substances the legislature had not intended to deny them.

Unable to find a clear solution in the express language of the statute, the Court applied several tenets of statutory interpretation to make a decision. First, it went to a legal dictionary, where it found that the definition of “prescription drug” included natural substances.

It also noted that, for several professions with undoubted prescription authority, the legislature had explicitly conferred that power, something that it had not done for naturopaths. The court took this as evidence that the legislature knew how to empower licensees to write prescriptions, and that in fact it had not done so for naturopaths.

Based on this analysis, the Court upheld the amended regulations.