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Warner asks DEA to expedite substance abuse telehealth guidance

A U.S. Senator is calling for the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop delaying providers from being able to treat patients using telehealth.

In a letter to the agency sent late last week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked the DEA to clarify the process by which healthcare professionals can legally use telehealth to treat patients with substance abuse disorders.

Warner wants the agency to expedite work on the process for exempting some health providers from restrictions on providing telehealth services for those looking to overcome the addictions.

Warner helped draft and pass a comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. The legislation includes a provision directing the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to create the process, which in part is needed to deal with restrictions placed on such activity by the Ryan Haight Act of 2008, which prohibits the delivery, distribution or dispensing of a controlled substance by means of the Internet without a prior in-person exam.

The Ryan Haight Act thus prevents providers from properly using telehealth to treat individuals. Warner says the lack of such treatment disproportionately affects those in rural areas who lack direct access to substance abuse treatment and who would benefit the most by online access to care.

Warner’s letter notes that the recently passed bipartisan legislation was signed into law in 2018; however, the Attorney General failed to finalize a rule by the October 2019 deadline. For provisions of this legislation to be most effective, the DEA must complete its rulemaking process, he contends.

“Providers across the country have been frustrated in their inability to provide adequate care as they wait for congressionally-mandated guidance from your agency to clarify the process whereby healthcare professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder,” Warner wrote.

“The DEA’s failure to promulgate the rule has meant that—despite Congress’ best efforts—many patients suffering from substance use disorders remain unable to access treatment via telehealth,” the letter noted. “These patients cannot afford to wait and we are concerned the DEA is standing in the way of treatment for individuals that cannot access a provider in person.”

Warner stated that expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can ensure increased access to services they need.

“I strongly urge the DEA to promulgate rulemaking on this issue as soon as possible so that patients suffering from substance use disorders can receive the care they need,” the Warner letter concludes. “Furthermore, I ask that if you do not intend to promulgate this rule in a timely manner you respond in writing with an explanation of your decision.”

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