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Register-Star: Barrett Lyme Treatment Bill Passes Assembly

By Joe Gentile, 5/18/14

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 106 — Legislation aimed at saving lives and changing minds in the medical community regarding the treatment of Lyme disease as a chronic, long-term condition has cleared the state Assembly. The bill was authored by Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106.

The bill giving physicians the legal authorization to prescribe long-term antibiotic therapies to their patients was passed unanimously Monday after Barrett introduced it. State Sen. Terry Gipson, D-41, has agreed to sponsor her legislation in the Senate.

Patients with Lyme disease should have the same rights as those with other diseases,” stated a Tuesday press release from Barrett’s office. “They must have the same rights as those with other diseases. They must have the right to be seen and treated by the practitioner of their choice, have the rights to be informed that there are differing professional judgments about the appropriate care for Lyme disease, and to participate in the choice of treatment as it pertains to their circumstances and preferences.”

It continued, emphasizing how patients’ rights are dependent on their health care provider’s ability “to act in the best interest of the patients without fear of reprisal from the professional discipline system when more than one set of guidelines exists.”

Doctors are being disciplined and censured by the New York State Board of Professional Medical Conduct for trying to treat the symptoms of an illness still not universally recognized as a chronic, long-term condition, Barrett said Thursday.

In the release, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-75, the Assembly Health Committee chairman, stated that “Lyme is an extremely complex illness to test for, and symptoms vary among patients.”

“While it is important for health care providers to follow rigorously-developed evidence, it is also important to recognize that innovation and disagreement are essential to the progress of medicine,” he continued.

Persistent symptoms of a Lyme infection can include extreme fatigue and muscle aches that often result, she added, in the “inability to function.”

“I think there are a lot of complaints around tick-borne diseases we haven’t begun to understand, and the patients are being used in the sense of being the guinea pigs,” Barrett said. “We just want to bring as much relief to them as we can, and be giving them the options to get better intermuscular and intravascular antibiotics.”

She added that Lyme disease has become “quite the epidemic of the Hudson Valley.”

“Over and over again, we see people in this area who find that it isn’t the kind of thing that disappears,” Barrett said. “Once you’re treated that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cured.”

Columbia County Health Department Director Angella Timothy said the agency has confirmed 13 cases of Lyme disease this year, with five patients reporting swollen joints. Joint swelling appears in approximately 20 to 30 percent of diagnosed cases.

“Our main focus is prevention through education and heightened awareness among community residents,” Timothy said. “Each individual must take the necessary personal prevention steps to protect themselves. With the unusually cold and wet winter we had this past year, we expect an increase in the number of cases.”

Two years ago, according to Barrett, the state Department of Health reported more than 50,000 New Yorkers had contracted Lyme disease.

“It’s incredibly debilitating, and people want their lives back,” Barrett said.