Exploring Telehealth Prescriptions: A Comprehensive Analysis of DEA Listening Sessions


Exploring Telehealth Prescriptions: A Comprehensive Analysis of DEA Listening Sessions

Written by

Isha Team


September 20, 2023


October 20, 2023

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken a significant step in modernizing healthcare practices by exploring the possibility of creating a special registration that allows healthcare providers to prescribe medically necessary drugs via telehealth. This initiative, which began during the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), has garnered attention and commentary from various stakeholders. Two public listening sessions held on September 12 and 13 provided a platform for extensive discussions on the potential long-term expansion of this policy.

Understanding the Evolution

During the PHE, the DEA temporarily granted exceptions to existing regulations, enabling the prescription of controlled substances through telemedicine encounters. These exceptions were implemented to prevent lapses in care, particularly when in-person medical evaluations were challenging to conduct. However, as the pandemic evolved, so did the need for a more refined framework.

On March 1, the DEA proposed a rule that would modify this policy, allowing for telemedicine prescriptions of nonnarcotic Schedule III to V controlled substances. The proposed rule mandated an initial 30-day supply limit and required an in-person evaluation for any subsequent prescriptions. A similar policy was proposed for buprenorphine prescribing in May. These proposals elicited an overwhelming response, resulting in one of the highest numbers of public comments in the DEA's history. In response to this feedback, the DEA extended its existing telehealth prescribing policies until at least November 2023.

Stakeholder Comments: Embracing Telehealth Potential

During the public listening sessions, healthcare professionals and organizations provided valuable feedback on the proposed regulations and shared their experiences with telehealth prescribing of controlled substances.

・Helen Hughes, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: Dr. Hughes highlighted the necessity of telemedicine prescription of controlled substances, especially for mental health care. She advocated for the removal of the in-person visit requirement and the development of a streamlined telemedicine special registration to facilitate centralized record-keeping and prescription tracking.

・Bruce Cohen, MD, Akron Children’s Hospital: Dr. Cohen emphasized the importance of telehealth for patients with chronic diseases. For patients who may have difficulty with in-person visits, particularly those with severe disabilities, telehealth-based prescriptions are crucial. He stressed that in-person visits for certain patients are unnecessary and can be effectively replaced by telehealth consultations.

・Halley Crissman, MD, Planned Parenthood of Michigan: Dr. Crissman highlighted the critical role of telehealth in providing gender-affirming care. Requiring even one in-person visit could potentially cut off numerous patients from essential gender-affirming therapy. Telehealth enables non-narcotic and non-addictive prescriptions, ensuring LGBTQ+ patients' access to healthcare without facing discrimination.

Balancing Expansion and Misuse Prevention

Stakeholders emphasized the importance of striking a balance between expanding access to care through telehealth and preventing misuse of controlled substances. They suggested reasonable controls within the telehealth prescription process to ensure patient safety and prevent potential abuse.

Future of Telehealth Regulations

As the DEA contemplates future regulations regarding telehealth prescriptions, stakeholders emphasized the need to streamline telehealth regulations. They called for a well-defined special registration process that allows practitioners to affirm adherence to patient safety processes. Additionally, stakeholders recommended the removal of in-person care restrictions for the virtual prescribing of Schedule II controlled medications and advocated for exemptions for specific patient populations.

The volume and insights provided during the public listening sessions demonstrate the necessity of carefully considering the future of telehealth-based prescriptions. Striking a balance between enhancing access to care and preventing misuse of controlled substances is vital in shaping the future of healthcare delivery. The DEA's commitment to an additional written comment period reflects a dedication to thoroughly evaluating the diverse perspectives and feedback received.

In a rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, telehealth is poised to play an integral role, ensuring accessible, safe, and efficient healthcare delivery for all. The lessons learned and insights gained from these listening sessions will undoubtedly shape the future of telehealth regulations, setting a precedent for the evolution of healthcare practices.

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