- The Drug Enforcement Administration and the HHS announced on Friday they will extend pandemic-era telehealth prescribing flexibilities for controlled substances through 2024.
- The temporary extension marks the second time regulators have prolonged the relaxed prescribing rules for drugs like opioid use disorder medications or stimulants for ADHD, which allow clinicians to provide the drugs virtually without first conducting an in-person evaluation.
- The rule ensures “a smooth transition for patients and practitioners that have come to rely on the availability of telemedicine for controlled medication prescriptions, as well as allowing adequate time for providers to come into compliance with any new standards or safeguards,” the DEA and the HHS wrote. The DEA will work to write new regulations by the fall of 2024.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DEA granted exceptions to the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 — which required most practitioners to have at least one in-person evaluation before prescribing controlled substances — to avoid lapses in care.
Those flexibilities were originally set to expire in May along with the rest of the COVID public health emergency. But the rules were extended again until November after the agency received more than 38,000 public comments on proposed rules that would have added more limitations to telehealth controlled substance prescriptions.
The agency said “a significant majority” expressed concern about the proposed rules.
In August, the DEA said it was “open” to considering a special registration that would allow physicians to prescribe some controlled substances through telemedicine.
Organizations like the American Telemedicine Association and the American Hospital Association have argued in-person requirements could limit access to care, particularly for opioid use disorders, which soared during the pandemic. Some lawmakers also pushed the agency to keep the flexibilities, saying telehealth can alleviate gaps in access and reduce disparities when combating substance abuse.
The ATA applauded the latest extension. Kyle Zebley, senior vice president for public policy at the ATA and executive director of ATA Action, said in a statement that 2024 is “shaping up to be the Super Bowl for telehealth, with many of the telehealth flexibilities enacted during the public health emergency set to expire.”