Last month Congress took action to extend an important telehealth resilience that will ensure millions of Americans and their providers will still have access to telehealth when the COVID-19 public health emergency officially ends. The importance of these policy extensions cannot be overstated. However, one important work item remains: prescribing treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
To ensure that controlled substances can continue to be prescribed by telehealth, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) must roll out a long-overdue registration process. This process is supposed to ensure that patients receive medication while protecting against inappropriate prescriptions or rogue online pharmacies.
The extent of the DEA’s inaction on this issue is staggering. It’s been nearly 14 years since Congress asked the agency to create a special registry for prescribing controlled substances through telemedicine. Not only has the DEA missed that deadline, but also the second deadline set by Congress in 2018. This is essentially defying the congressional mandate — twice.
The White House announced that the activation of the special recording process “The priority of the Biden administration in the first year.” We’ve now been in nearly three years of the Biden presidency, yet this issue remains unaddressed, even as other mental health access policies advance.
In 2020, more than 80 organizations Called on the Drug Enforcement Administration To act on the basis of significant national experience and evidence generated by the pandemic. These organizations have called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to “accelerate and complete its efforts to implement a special telemedicine registration process that will enable providers to securely prescribe controlled substances remotely.”
“Our experience during COVID-19 has demonstrated the value of increased access to telemedicine to enable all eligible providers, including community mental health centers and addiction treatment facilities, to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to patients with opioid use disorder (OUD). ), “note.
Two years later, in 2022, the number of stakeholder groups Write to the Drug Enforcement Administration more than tripled to 300. The groups have pleaded with the Drug Enforcement Administration to avoid a hanging cliff in providers’ ability to prescribe drugs.
They asked, “What is the DEA’s plan to ensure that patients do not lose access to treatment and needed medications” and “For patients who are currently undergoing treatment with a provider who does not have a physical presence?”
They stressed that “the urgency of today on this issue should not be there.”
Nearly 50 members of Congress have supported legislation on ensuring private telemedicine registration for the DEA. Powerful senators, like Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), lobby publicly and privately.
What will it take? How many stakeholders are they pleading with? How many members of Congress write and pass legislation? How much evidence is needed for these vital medicines to treat mental illness and substance abuse?
Action must take place soon or there will be a gap in care between the end of the public health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic and the beginning of the time when providers can prescribe needed medications via telehealth.
Krista Drobac is the CEO of Connected Care AllianceAn organization dedicated to ensuring that all patients are able to realize the benefits of connected care.