Topeka — Naturopathic physicians and their supporters say this may be the year they win legal recognition from the state.
Kansas legislators are considering a bill that would require naturopathic doctors to be licensed and regulated by the state.
Naturopathic physicians in Lawrence are pushing for state licensure because they say they fear that the current unlicensed situation will allow improperly-trained naturopaths to treat patients.
"Licensure will provide safer protections for the public," said Mehdi Khosh, a naturopathic physician, who is one of several leading the licensing effort.
Khosh practices in Lawrence with his brother Farhang Khosh. Another naturopathic doctor from Lawrence involved with the legislation is Peter Kimble.
In Kansas and across the nation, naturopathy is picking up support as an alternative to traditional health care.
Naturopathy is the treatment of disease and ailments using herbs, minerals and other natural products, as well as through exercise, diet and other therapies, such as acupuncture.
"Naturopathy provides people with a choice. Western medicine doesn't have all the answers," Mehdi Khosh said.
Properly-trained naturopathic doctors, called N.D.s, complete four years of college and four years of advanced work at one of four accredited naturopathic colleges in the United States. Those schools include Bastyr University, Seattle; National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Ore.; University of Bridgeport College of Natural Medicine, Bridgeport, Conn., and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences, Tempe, Ariz.
Dr. Jeanne Drisko of the Kansas University Medical Center, said licensure of naturopathic doctors is crucial to provide consumers with choices of treatment and protect them from fakes.
"There are degrees you can get online and through mail-order, and these are not properly trained," Drisko said.
Naturopathic physicians have fought for legal status from the state for many years but have been opposed by the Kansas Medical Society.
But last year, the Kansas Naturopathic Physicians Assn. submitted an application with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to review its proposal to be licensed.
A KDHE committee found that the association had proved its case and that naturopathic physicians should be licensed by the state.
One of the committee's preliminary findings was that without licensure, fake naturopathic doctors could pose a threat to patients. The committee also found that naturopathic medicine requires an identifiable body of knowledge and advanced study.
For supporters of naturopathy, the committee report substantiated what they have been saying.
Rep. Gwen Welshimer, D-Wichita, has been pushing for licensure of naturopathic doctors for years.
She said naturopathy can reduce health-care costs, which, fueled by spikes in prescription drug prices, have been skyrocketing and are a large part of the state's current budget problem.
"This is a solution," she said of naturopathy.
The move toward licensing naturopathic doctors also received a boost from a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that held that a state law allowing a Wichita naturopath to practice was constitutional.
Kansas law allows naturopaths who graduated from a college approved by the naturopathic association to work without approval from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts if they were practicing in the state as of Jan. 1, 1982. State officials say Stanley Beyrle of Wichita is apparently the only naturopath in Kansas to whom this law applies.
The bill which would apply to doctors like the Khosh brothers and Kimble since they came to Kansas after 1982 is still being worked on and will be considered by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Wagle said she was optimistic that the Legislature would approve licensing naturopathic doctors.
"The people want it. I'm hopeful we can get something to offer Kansans additional therapies," Wagle said.
Currently, 12 states license naturopahtic doctors, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Several more, like Kansas, are considering licensure.
Drisko, who teaches integrated medicine at Kansas University Medical Center, said naturopathy is gaining acceptance from medical doctors.
"It is a consumer-driven movement," she said.
She said she offers an elective class to fourth-year students at the medical center which covers nontraditional treatments and includes a lecture from a naturopathic physician.