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DEA clarifies that controlled substances can be prescribed via telehealth

March 23, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Drug Prescribing/Dispensing Public Health 


While prescriptions for controlled substances issued by means of the internet (including telemedicine) must generally be predicated on an in-person medical evaluation, the federal Controlled Substances Act contains certain exceptions to this requirement. One such exception occurs when the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency. HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared such a public health emergency with regard to COVID-19 on January 31, 2020.

For as long as the Secretary’s designation of a public health emergency remains in effect, DEA-registered practitioners may issue prescriptions for controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • The prescription is issued for a legitimate medical purpose by a practitioner acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice
  • The telemedicine communication is conducted using an audio-visual, real-time, two-way interactive communication system.
  • The practitioner is acting in accordance with applicable federal and state law.

Provided the practitioner satisfies the above requirements, the practitioner may issue the prescription using any of the methods of prescribing currently available and in the manner set forth in the DEA regulations. Thus, the practitioner may issue a prescription either electronically (for schedules II-V) or by calling in an emergency schedule II prescription to the pharmacy, or by calling in a schedule III-V prescription to the pharmacy.

Important note: If the prescribing practitioner has previously conducted an in-person medical evaluation of the patient, the practitioner may issue a prescription for a controlled substance after having communicated with the patient via telemedicine, or any other means, regardless of whether a public health emergency has been declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, so long as the prescription is issued for a legitimate medical purpose and the practitioner is acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice. In addition, for the prescription to be valid, the practitioner must comply with any applicable State laws.

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