DEA proposes rule to allow electronic prescriptions for controlled substances

August 11, 2008

Physicians would have the choice of doling out electronic prescriptions for controlled substances with a proposed regulation from the DEA.

Physicians would have the option of issuing electronic prescriptions for controlled substances under a proposed regulation issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The regulations, which would be voluntary, would also permit pharmacies to receive, dispense, and archive electronic prescriptions.

The agency published its proposed regulation in the Federal Register on June 27.

The proposed regulations would be an addition to, not a replacement of, the existing rules, according to DEA. The regulations are expected to work in tandem with standards developed by the Department of Health and Human Services on transmitting electronic prescriptions.

The proposed rules would also have the potential to reduce the number of prescription errors caused by illegible handwriting and misunderstood oral prescriptions. Moreover, they would help both pharmacies and hospitals to integrate prescription records into other medical records more directly, which would increase efficiency and reduce the amount of time patients spend waiting to have their prescriptions filled, according to DEA.

Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Diversion Control for DEA, said, "Our goal is to put in place an electronic prescribing system that is efficient, medically beneficial to patients and prescribers, and provides security from hackers and others who might seek to engage in fraudulent prescribing activities."

DEA is proposing several requirements that registrants must meet:

"It is essential that electronic prescribing of controlled substances takes place in a manner that allows for reliable prescribing records so that the prescribing practitioner and the pharmacist who fills the prescription can remain accountable for their actions, as they are when using paper prescriptions," Rannazzisi said.

Pharmacy organizations generally support the concept of e-prescribing. However, two organizations have some reservations about the DEA proposal as it is presently constituted. "There are some aspects of the rule that could present logistical challenges for pharmacies, prescribers, and e-prescribing service providers," according to a statement by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS).

Charlie Sewell, vice president of government affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), said there are many details in the proposal that require careful review. "We want a workable system at the pharmacy level and one that gets physicians to conduct e-prescribing," he said. "[The proposal] is a step in the right direction, but it was not done as cleanly as it could have been, and it has left a lot of questions unanswered." Both NACDS and NCPA plan to formally submit comments to the DEA.