The Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed that it will extend COVID-era telehealth flexibilities.
On Wednesday, the agency said it needs additional time to work through the mountain of comments it received on two rules that would claw back telehealth and controlled substance prescribing flexibilities.
“We take those comments seriously and are considering them carefully,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement shared with Behavioral Health Business. “We recognize the importance of telemedicine in providing Americans with access to needed medications, and we have decided to extend the current flexibilities while we work to find a way forward to give Americans that access with appropriate safeguards.”
Yesterday, Behavioral Health Business first reported that the DEA had filed a yet-to-be-published final rule temporarily extending the telehealth and prescribing regulations released during the federal public health emergency (PHE) past its termination on May 11. The fast-approaching deadline and apparent regression in telehealth regulation have forced a burgeoning segment of the behavioral health sector to cool its expectations for growth and raised existential questions for some.
On Feb. 24, the DEA released two proposed rules that effectively eliminate in-home telehealth initiation of care with controlled substances. There were some short-term exceptions for medication, such as buprenorphine, a vital tool in treating opioid use disorder (OUD).
The DEA’s statement did not say when the final rule would be released, and it’s not clear how long the extension will last. It’s also not clear how the final rule for telehealth and controlled substance prescribing will look after a massive and negative response from the public.
Milgram says the DEA received a “record 38,000” comments on the proposed rules.
“[The proposed rule] determine who receives care based on the luck of geography, mobility and wealth,” Mindbloom Medical Director Dr. Leonardo Vando wrote in a comment.
“Pharmacies and pharmacists do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and have thus erred on the side of restricting access rather than risk over-dispensing … Inconsistent guidance and enforcement by the DEA has fueled this fire,” Kyle Zebley, executive director ATA Action and senior vice president of public policy for American Telemedicine Association.
“If the goal of the DEA is to increase overdoses and drive patients to seek illicit substances in rural communities, this is a great way to do so,” Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, a clinic based in Clatsop County, Oregon, wrote.