Teledoctors can continue prescribing controlled substances, for now

Prior to the pandemic, only a handful of medicines could be prescribed virtually. The DEA is now trying to develop long-term rules.
Suboxone is a drug used to treat opioid addiction.
Posted at 2:48 PM, May 10, 2023

With the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency coming to an end this week, the role telehealth and virtual doctors play could face major changes. 

But the Drug Enforcement Agency said one pandemic-era provision will stay in place temporarily. 

The DEA has extended the period virtual doctors can prescribe controlled substances for an additional six months. The provision, which was scheduled to end May 11, will now be extended through Nov. 11. 

Additionally, in practitioner-patient telemedicine relationships established prior to Nov. 11, practitioners can continue prescribing controlled substances through Nov. 11, 2024. The extension of the new rule means federal rule makers have more time to collect public comments to determine a long-term policy. 

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"The DEA received a record 38,000 comments on its proposed telemedicine rules. We take those comments seriously and are considering them carefully," said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. "We recognize the importance of telemedicine in providing Americans with access to needed medications, and we have decided to extend the current flexibilities for six months while we work to find a way forward to give Americans that access with appropriate safeguards."

Since March 2020, doctors in the U.S. have been allowed to prescribe Schedule II-V drugs after consulting with a doctor using a video chat. Schedule II drugs generally have the most risk of potential abuse. Drugs in this category include oxycodone, fentanyl and methadone. 

The DEA had proposed rules to permanently allow teledoctors  to prescribe non-narcotic Schedule III-V drugs. A separate rule would have been required to allow narcotics meant to treat addiction, such as Suboxone, to be prescribed virtually, the DEA said.

"DEA believes that allowing for the prescription of any Schedule II substances or the general prescription of narcotic controlled substances as a result of telemedicine encounters would pose too great a risk to the public health and safety," the DEA said in its March 1 proposal.

Prior to the pandemic, teledoctors could only prescribe a limited set of medicines, such as antibiotics and birth control.