Ontario just became the second province in Canada to get the green light for increased prescribing rights for naturopaths. British Columbia granted its naturopaths the right to prescribe a greater number of medications — as well as high-dose vitamins, amino acids, hormones, botanicals and herbs — in April 2009.

The announcement follows the granting of more powers to other health professionals, such as midwives and registered nurses.

On Oct. 20, the province's standing committee on social policy voted to amend Ontario's Naturopathy Act through Bill 179, allowing naturopaths in the province to prescribe, dispense compound or sell a drug listed in the regulations.

The bill is expected to be approved by the end of the year.

Drugs still require regulatory approval

The news is being welcomed by naturopaths across the country. "We see it as a very positive step," Shawn O'Reilly, executive director of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors in Toronto, told CBC News. "It will allow access to naturopathic doctors to prescribe drugs and supplements formerly off limits."

Though naturopathic doctors will still be restricted in the types of drugs they can prescribe, O'Reilly says they will be able to provide patients with medication they would otherwise have had to seek at walk-in clinics and emergency rooms. She says this decision will decrease ER wait times, and clear the way for speedier treatment for the acutely ill.

While the amendment increases the number of medications naturopaths can prescribe, it is far from being a carte blanche. Many drugs will still be off limits to NDs, such as psychotropic medications, including lithium, which affects the mind and emotions, and chemotherapy drugs. In B.C., these drugs currently can only be prescribed by physicians, said Christoph Kind, president of the British Columbia Naturopathic Association in Vancouver.

He says the list is still under review by the province's regulator, though he foresees acute-care drugs, such as antibiotics, to be included under the new prescribing rules.