Federal officials plan to tighten access to drugs that have the potential for abuse by reinstating federal prescribing requirements that were loosened during the pandemic.
The Biden administration will require that patients see a doctor in person, rather than through a telehealth appointment, to get a first prescription for opioid painkillers and the attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.
Prescription refills will still be allowed during telehealth appointments, however.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also plans to tighten prescribing for less addictive drugs, such as codeine, Xanax, Ambien and buprenorphine.
Those drugs will be allowed to be prescribed once via telehealth for a 30-day dose, but then patients will need to see a doctor in person to get a refill.
Codeine is used to reduce pain and coughing. Xanax is an anxiety medication. Ambien is a sleep aid. Buprenorphine is used to treat opioid addiction.
The DEA plans for this new rule to go into effect before May 11, when the COVID-19 public health emergency expires.
“DEA is committed to ensuring that all Americans can access needed medications,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in an agency news release announcing the changes. “DEA is committed to the expansion of telemedicine with guardrails that prevent the online overprescribing of controlled medications that can cause harm.”
It will be important for people needing these medications to plan for a visit to a doctor before then, a bigger barrier for those who live in rural areas.
Patients will need to see their doctor in person within six months after the rule goes into effect.
“Providers and their patients need to know what that treatment is going to look like moving forward and whether, once the public health emergency ends in May, if they're going to need to figure out a way to have a visit in person before continuing treatment, and that can be a real challenge,” Boston-based attorney Jeremy Sherer, who represents telehealth companies, told the Associated Press.
Other common prescriptions, including birth control, antibiotics, insulin and skin creams will still be allowed to be prescribed through telehealth appointments.
The DEA is concerned that some in a new booming industry of startup telehealth companies are improperly prescribing addictive substances, including opioids and ADHD medication the AP reported.
“Both sides of this tension have really good points,” David Herzberg, a historian of drugs at the University of Buffalo in New York, told the AP. “You don't want barriers in the way of getting people prescriptions they need. But anytime you remove those barriers, it's also an opportunity for profit seekers to exploit the lax rules and sell the medicines to people who may not need them.”
A U.S. drug overdose crisis continues, starting with prescription opioids which have given way to deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Overdose deaths hit record numbers in 2021, the AP reported.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on telehealth.
SOURCE: Associated Press