Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., urged Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon in a Jan. 17 letter to release a “long-delayed rule” that will “ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat individuals with substance use disorders.”

The new telehealth rule is needed, the senator said, to overcome the Ryan Haight Act of 2008. That law  prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance by means of the internet without a prior in-person exam, and effectively prevents the use of telehealth to treat substance abuse.

To change that, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 requires the Department of Justice (DoJ) – which oversees DEA – to work 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.” The Attorney General was given an October 2019 deadline for finalizing the new rule, but DoJ failed to meet the deadline.

“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,” Sen. Warner wrote. “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.”

Sen. Warner “strongly” urged DEA to create the rule as soon as possible, and asked Dhillon to respond in writing with an explanation if the agency does not plan to “promulgate this rule in a timely manner.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.