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With the COVID public health emergency (PHE) scheduled to end on May 11, 2023, the issue of prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine and telehealth has taken center stage. Before COVID, prescribing controlled substances was prohibited without in-person assessments, and practitioners had to obtain a special registration from the DEA for telehealth controlled substances. These requirements have been fiercely debated since the Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) enforcement of the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008. The initial ruling was put in place to protect consumers against unscrupulous Internet-based sales of prescriptions, which has continued in other forms. However, in light of the recent events detailed below, the telehealth community of prescribers will likely prevail against their position that in-person assessments should be optional when prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine, telehealth, or any Internet-mediated technology.

During the PHE, the following two pivotal changes were made to rules about telehealth controlled substances:

  • Authorized practitioners could prescribe a controlled substance to a patient using telemedicine, even if the patient wasn’t at a hospital or clinic registered with the DEA. 
  • Qualifying practitioners could prescribe buprenorphine to new and existing patients with opioid use disorder based on a telephone evaluation.

Current Research into Rationales for Prescribing Controlled Substances via Telemedicine

Led by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a recent study published in JAMA Network Open helps to shed needed light on the alleged dangers of prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine and telehealth. The landmark study involved the following:

  • Looking at the number of overdose deaths involving buprenorphine between July 2019 and June 2021, the cross-sectional study included an overall sample size of 74,474 opioid-involved overdose cases.
  • Data was pulled from the State Unintentional…

From Telebehavioral Health Institute – Read More

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