Warner pushes release of telehealth guidance for treatment of substance use disorders

mark warnerU.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is expressing concern with repeated delays by the DEA that are preventing providers from being able to properly treat their patients via telehealth.

In a letter, Sen. Warner urged the DEA Acting Administrator to finalize a long-delayed rule that will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat individuals with substance use disorders.

“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 health care professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder,” wrote Sen. Warner. “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. 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 – particularly those in rural and underserved areas.”

“The opioid and addiction epidemic has devastated communities nationwide, with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas,” he continued. “Expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can bridge the distance between patients and care and ensure increased access to services they need.”

In order to crack down on the online proliferation of dangerous controlled substances online, the Ryan Haight Act of 2008 prohibited the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance by means of the internet without a prior in-person exam. However, this prevented providers from properly using telehealth to treat individuals – particularly those in rural communities who rely on this service to obtain timely access to health care.

Sen. Warner helped draft and pass the Senate’s comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill, which included a provision directing the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to create a process for exempting certain health care providers for the purpose of providing telehealth services for substance use disorder.

In addition – that legislation included four other provisions led by Sen. Warner that use telehealth to expand access to treatment for individuals suffering from substance use disorder. The 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.

In the letter to Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, Sen. Warner emphasized the wide disparity in opioid deaths between urban communities and rural communities, which have a 45 percent higher rate of deaths by opioids. Sen. Warner also requested that the DEA provide an explanation if it does not intend to promulgate rulemaking on this issue in a timely manner.

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