Dec. 30, 2021 – Absent evidence of abuse, says Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., telehealth should continue for medically-assisted opioid treatment.

“We’ve now had 18 months to have telehealth expand dramatically; it would be a huge mistake to roll back that progress,” Warner says. “If you cut off that ability to deliver those substances with appropriate protections, you’re really cutting back on the path to recovery for a lot of folks.”

Yet of the estimated 1,000 telehealth bills pending before state and federal lawmakers now, very few mention controlled medications. That’s partly because Congress already passed a law in 2018, directing the DEA to set up a registry of physicians authorized to prescribe regulated drugs using telehealth. 

More than two years after the deadline, that database doesn’t exist. The DEA declined to comment on when it might be completed.

“The DEA kept on saying they’re going to do that, but there has been no action taken,” says Kyle Zebley, vice president of public policy for the American Telemedicine Association. 

Therefore, says Zebley, once current relaxed telehealth rules expire, patients relying on them will face what Zebley calls a “telehealth cliff.”

“Now we have millions of Americans — so, a huge cohort — that are relying on virtual online prescribing of controlled substances and that will go away,” he says. “An already heightened opioid and substance use crisis will be significantly exacerbated.”