Senate finds telemedicine is crucial to opioid epidemic fight

The HELP committee bill forms a clear response to the opioid crisis and outlines ways to expand care access for addicted patients while placing limits on who can prescribe opioids through the technology platform.
By Jessica Davis
09:31 AM

The Senate HELP committee passed the Opioid Crisis Act of 2018, which, among other provisions, outlines the importance of telemedicine use in the country’s fight against the opioid epidemic.

The 116-page bipartisan bill includes 40 provisions designed to tackle the opioid crisis from a number of angles.

Specifically, the bill would require the Drug Enforcement Agency to create guidelines on how healthcare providers can prescribe controlled substances through telemedicine in limited circumstances.

[Also: DoD gives GlobalMed authority to run telehealth services on federal networks]

The bill directs the attorney general to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to create rules allowing special registration for providers that use telemedicine to prescribe opioids for treating drug abuse

The special registration would change the 2009 Ryan Haight Act, which was designed to combat internet pharmacies popular during the 1990s. The DEA issued regulations that imposed a federal prohibition on form-only online prescribing of opioids and placed limits on the electronic prescription of controlled substances.

The bill’s creation of a special registration would make it easier to prescribe using telemedicine.

[Also: Senate passes VETS Act, would enable VA providers to offer telehealth across state lines]

“Over the last six months, this committee has heard from experts on how the federal government can be the best possible partner as we work to combat the nation’s largest public health crisis – the opioid crisis,” Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said in a statement.

“The challenge before us has often been described as needing a moonshot,” he added. “Solving the opioid crisis might require the energy and resources of a moonshot, but ultimately it is not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.”

The legislation also includes other tech provisions, including a requirement for local and state governments to outline a plan to share their prescription drug monitoring program data within the state and with other states.

The proposed bill will also encourage all states to register with the PDMP program, while enabling those users to access data in real-time, as much as possible. It would also create a tool for the program to notify authorized users of any potential misuse of controlled substances or inappropriate prescribing practices.

Another provision would require the HHS Secretary to give providers guidance on the type of information they’re allowed to share with families when an opioid emergency occurs.

These rules would go into effect within a year, after the attorney general provides a 60-day comment period. On Tuesday, the committee said it intended to incorporate additional measures before it’s presented to the full Senate body.

The bill is just the latest in both state and federal moves to finally put a dent in the opioid crisis, which President Donald Trump called a public health emergency in the fall. Last month, the House revealed two proposed bills leveraging both the use of telemedicine and the DEA.


Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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