- The Drug Enforcement Agency is temporarily extending pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities, allowing physicians to continue prescribing controlled substances like Adderall, oxycodone and opioid use disorder drugs virtually.
- The flexibilities were previously set to expire May 11, along with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- The agency said on Wednesday that it needs additional time to parse through the record 38,000 public comments it received in response to a proposal to reintroduce stricter limits around telehealth prescribing.
Last week, the DEA submitted a draft temporary rule to the Office of Management and Budget to temporarily extend the pandemic-era flexibilities. It’s unclear how long the extension will last, but more details about the rule will be available once it’s published in the Federal Register, according to the DEA.
Virtual prescribing of controlled substances exploded during the pandemic, leading to worries of fraud and abuse over the emergence of digital “pill mills.” Doctors have been allowed to prescribe controlled medications to first-time patients for nearly three years.
In February, the DEA announced it was considering enacting safeguards for telemedicine consultations that result in the prescribing of a controlled medication. The proposed rules would restrict a physician’s ability to prescribe controlled substances to patients they had never previously seen in person.
Buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid use disorders, was an exception, as doctors could still prescribe a 30-day supply before a required in-person exam for refills.
Patients who already receive prescriptions virtually would have 180 days to comply with the new rules if finalized.
The proposed policies garnered fierce criticism from some patient advocates and behavioral health experts, who argued providing low-barrier access to medications is key — especially to vulnerable groups, like disabled Americans or those living in rural areas. More than 100 million Americans currently lack a primary care physician. Telemedicine lobbies and even some lawmakers on the Hill also said the DEA should waive the in-person requirement.
Critics stumped for easy digital access to opioid use disorder treatments in particular, citing the need to ameliorate the opioid crisis.
People with opioid use disorder who received telehealth services had a lower risk of overdose, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health published last summer. Another study from January found unintentional overdose deaths involving buprenorphine didn’t increase as a result of the more flexible telehealth prescribing policies.