Over the past couple of years, the healthcare industry has seen significant growth in the adoption and use of electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) for controlled substances.

Accounting for 12 percent of all prescriptions annually, controlled substances such as opioid narcotics and stimulants have the potential for abuse. Yet, e-prescribing was unavailable until the Drug Enforcement Administration legalized it in 2010. Since then, electronic prescriptions have grown dramatically, according to 18 months of transactional data recently released in a study co-authored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Analysis.

Using nationally representative transactional Surescripts data from July 2012 to December 2013, ONC reports that the total number of electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS) increased from 1,535 to 52,423, and the number and percentage of all pharmacies enabled for EPCS increased from 8,768 (13 percent) to 20,498 pharmacies (30 percent).

On average, the total number of EPCS increased by nearly 3,000 prescriptions every month during the 18-month study period. And, ONC reveals that on average the total number of EPCS-enabled pharmacies increased by nearly 700 pharmacies every month so that by December 2013 nearly one-third of U.S. pharmacies were enabled to accept EPCS.

However, ONC also reports that during that time frame the proportion of all providers prescribing controlled substances electronically was just 1 percent. Still, the agency asserts that the growth in EPCS among providers steadily increased and that an average of nearly 300 new providers sent EPCS every month.

Nonetheless, ONC acknowledges that there are challenges that providers face in electronically prescribing controlled substances including system security compliance and provider authentication issues—pharmacy and provider software must have additional security to comply with DEA requirements.

But, ONC argues that EPCS is a more secure and advanced way to handle controlled substances than traditional paper prescriptions and that challenges are being overcome as the process becomes more streamlined and incorporates new technology. For instance, the agency points to the availability of fingerprint scanners for laptop and desktop computers to help meet the required provider authentication.

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