When the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency comes to an end on May 11, people will be able to continue getting prescriptions for drugs that treat ADHD, opioid use disorder and other conditions from medical providers via telehealth – for as many as 18 more months.

Before the pandemic, medications classified as controlled substances could only be initially prescribed after an in-person examination. In the early months of the pandemic, with medical offices closed to in-person visits, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a waiver allowing prescriptions for these medications to be started via telehealth.

The new extension allows providers to initiate new prescriptions through telehealth until November 11, 2023 and to continue prescribing that started before that date for another year – through November 11, 2024. 

Previous extensions were set to expire tomorrow, a prospect that alarmed many patients and providers, leading to the submission of more than 38,000 comments to the DEA as federal officals weighed new regulations. The extension allows doctors and patients to continue telehealth prescribing while the DEA reviews the comments and formulates final rules. 

“We recognize the importance of telemedicine in providing Americans with access to needed medications, and we have decided to extend the current flexibilities for six months while we work to find a way forward to give Americans that access with appropriate safeguards,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement.

Organizations like the American Telehealth Association (ATA) – originally critical of the DEA’s plan to shift from the current waivers – were pleased.

“These actions cover access to clinically appropriate prescriptions of controlled substances that patients need for a wide variety of medical circumstances, including for mental health and substance use disorders,” Kyle Zebley, senior vice president of public policy for the ATA, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that during this extension period, the DEA will revise the draft rules to address unnecessarily restrictive barriers to equitable and appropriate clinical care, such as mandating in-person visits.” 

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Courtney WiseReporter

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...