Telemedicine Prescription Waiver by DEA Continues Beyond Public Health Emergency Period

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States in early 2020, the DEA recognized the need for easier access to controlled substances for patients receiving telemedicine consultations. The agency announced an exemption to the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, a 2008 law designed to prevent the creation of prescriptions without proper patient evaluation. The exemption allowed healthcare providers to prescribe controlled substances through telemedicine without facing the restrictions of the Ryan Haight Act.

Initially, the exemptions were set to expire when the public health emergency ended on May 11, 2020. However, the DEA extended the exemptions temporarily due to ongoing pandemic concerns. Patients receiving controlled substances through telemedicine could continue to do so until November 11, 2020. Moreover, patients beginning a provider-patient relationship before November 11, 2020, could receive their prescriptions without visiting a doctor in-person until November 11, 2021.

The DEA received a considerable amount of public comment on the proposed rule, with 38,369 comments submitted. The Telemedicine Association of America welcomed the extension, calling it a “reprieve,” and urged the DEA to amend the draft rule to remove unnecessarily restrictive barriers. According to the ATA’s Executive Director, Kyle Zebrey, clinical care needs to be stepped up, and the ATA expects the DEA to address these issues during the extended period.

In summary, the DEA has responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing exemptions to the Ryan Haight Act, allowing for easier access to controlled substances through telemedicine. The agency has extended these exemptions due to ongoing public health concerns, giving healthcare providers and patients more time to adapt to these changing circumstances. The ATA hopes that the DEA will continue to make adjustments to encourage fair and proper activity in telemedicine.

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