INDIANAPOLIS – Thousands of Hoosiers who rely on telehealth appointments could soon see some big changes when it comes to getting certain prescriptions.
The DEA is looking to change several online prescribing rules that existed throughout the pandemic. The proposed regulation changes could impact access to Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) treatment medication.
The proposal would go into effect when the federal covid-19 public health emergency expires at the end of May.
“For the last couple of years, telehealth has been huge in increasing access to care,” said Stephanie Anderson, Chief Operating Officer for Mental Health America of Indiana.
Anderson said telehealth has served as a path to recovery for thousands of Americans struggling with addiction over the last few years.
“Whether it’s a transportation issue or a distance issue, telehealth made the world a smaller place and then made it more accessible,” she said.
Anderson said virtual appointments allowed patients to easily get their prescribed treatments and enter recovery, but certain medications, like those used to treat OUD, will now take things off the screen and back in person.
“I can understand the sentiment behind the proposal,” Anderson said. “We had an opioid epidemic and we have an opioid epidemic. That is very concerning, and it stemmed from overprescribing of opiates. It’s well documented that that’s where it came from.”
The DEA said it is “committed to the expansion of telemedicine with guardrails that prevent the online overprescribing of controlled medications that can cause harm.”
Under the proposal, patients could still get an initial 30-day dose of medication to treat opioid addiction, but an in-person appointment would be required for refills.
“The sentiment behind this is to prevent another opioid crisis at the hands of prescribers,” Anderson said. “At the same time, it will limit people from accessing care. Those folks who were never able to get treatment before and now have access to care are going to struggle.”
She recommends patients begin planning ahead for possible changes.
“I would say start talking to your prescribers now,” she said. “Talk to folks that surround you in your recovery community and figure out access to opportunities to get to that in-person appointment now. You don’t have to wait until the policy changes.”
Patients would still be able to get less addictive medications like antibiotics or birth control through virtual appointments. Schedule II medications, which are considered the strongest, would require an in-person appointment before any prescription.