The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has proposed new regulations that would make it possible to prescribe controlled medications using telemedicine. This would expand access to vital treatments beyond the term of the COVID-19 public health crisis. These rules were created with the help of the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new regulations aim to implement safeguards on certain telemedicine consultations that have been conducted without a physical examination of the patient. These rules would allow practitioners to prescribe an amount of Schedule III-V drugs and a 30-day supply of buprenorphine for opioid addiction treatment, without an in-person evaluation or a referral from a medical practitioner who has already examined the patient, as long as the prescription abides by all relevant federal and state laws. However, consultations and prescriptions related to referred patients and those conducted by medical practitioners who have already done an in-person medical examination of the patient will remain unaffected. Likewise, telemedicine consultations that do not involve the prescribing of controlled medications will not be affected.
Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the DEA, stated that they are dedicated to guaranteeing that all Americans can access necessary medications while guaranteeing the safety of patients. Additionally, she stated that the DEA is focused on the expansion of telemedicine with measures to stop the overprescription of controlled medications that can be harmful. Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of the HHS, commented that the expansion of telemedicine flexibilities will improve access to mental health and substance use disorder services, ultimately saving lives.
The DEA is aiming to increase availability of medication to treat opioid use disorder with the recent telemedicine regulations. Administrator Milgram pointed out that these rules would “continue to expand access to buprenorphine for patients with opioid use disorder.” This decision could be a major step in tackling the opioid epidemic in the US, as there has been a considerable rise in opioid-related fatalities in recent years.
The Drug Enforcement Agency is requesting the public to provide feedback on the proposed regulations within the 30-day comment period. Once the comments are evaluated, the DEA will move forward in constructing the definitive rules. The entire text of the proposals is available for viewing on the DEA’s website.
In 2021, the United States reported an alarming number of overdoses, with approximately three-fourths attributed to opioids and an even greater death toll linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. This is largely due to the increased accessibility of fentanyl in the illegal market, disguised as counterfeit prescription pills or added to other substances. In light of this, the introduction of telemedicine rules is a beneficial move for both patients and healthcare professionals, providing greater access to essential treatments, especially in rural and neglected areas. This is not only a reflection of the growing acceptance of telemedicine as a legitimate form of healthcare, made more evident due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also allows patients to receive care without having to travel long distances to a medical center. It is hoped that with these rules, patients everywhere can access the care they require without being restricted by geographical boundaries.