Dozens of orgs call on DEA to enable remote prescriptions for controlled substances

Such a regulation would assist providers with implementing medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in the longer term.
By Kat Jercich
10:46 AM
DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea stands at a lectern

DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea (Pool, Getty Images)

More than 80 organizations led by the Alliance for Connected Care called this week for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to implement a telemedicine special registration that would allow providers to remotely prescribe controlled substances. 

As the groups noted in a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for providers to prescribe medication assisted treatment to patients with opioid use disorder.

Though the DEA has allowed for remote prescribing of controlled substances using telehealth without an in-person exam during the pandemic, the groups point out the need for permanent regulation.

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"In the six months since COVID-19 brought the nation to a standstill, the opioid epidemic has taken a sharp turn for the worse," the groups wrote.   

"Telemedicine is one of the key means of addressing this worsening crisis by expanding access to addiction treatment in underserved communities, rural areas and communities of color," they continued.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

Two years ago, President Donald Trump signed into law the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities, or SUPPORT, Act.   

The legislation required the Attorney General, in consultation with the HHS Secretary, to specify regulations around special registration for telehealth within one year of its passage.  

Since then, the groups wrote, there has been "no appreciable progress in moving forward a rulemaking process to implement this key telemedicine provision."

"Given the opioid use crisis now heavily impacting the United States, the DEA’s delay is difficult to comprehend," they added.  

The letter writers pointed out that buprenorphine, an opioid medication, is a key part of the medication-assisted treatment regimen and can be dispensed for take-home use in local pharmacies. They also cited research showing that telehealth had been used to manage buprenorphine treatment before the COVID-19 crisis.   

"Many healthcare providers across the United States have used telemedicine to expand access to MAT and report high clinician and patient satisfaction with telemedicine," they wrote.

In addition to the Alliance for Connected Care, signees included the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Telemedicine Association, the American Nurses Association, URAC, the Minnesota HIMSS Chapter and the California Hospital Association.  

THE LARGER TREND  

Tech has played a vital role in combating the opioid crisis.   

In addition to the reliance on telemedicine as a tool to reach vulnerable patients, researchers have found that electronic health records can assist with safe tapering for patients who have needed the medication to address chronic pain.  

"With the opioid crisis still unresolved and the COVID-19 pandemic making patients more vulnerable to opioid misuse, the need is urgent for the digitization of the opioid tapering plan, and organizations can act now to create, develop, and implement this solution," wrote the authors of a HIMSS Electronic Health Record Association white paper earlier this year.   

ON THE RECORD  

"Given the worsening opioid overdose crisis, the undersigned organizations urge the DEA to move forward with the telemedicine special registration process required by federal law that will enable SAMHSA-waivered clinicians, Community Mental Health Centers and addiction treatment facilities to prescribe [medication-assisted treatment] to patients with [opioid use disorder] employing telemedicine technology," read the letter addressed to Shea.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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