DEA allows controlled drug e-prescribing, handing pharmacy advocates a key victory

WASHINGTON Capping a decade-long -– and ultimately victorious -– battle by pharmacy and technology interests to modernize all facets of the prescription prescribing and dispensing process, the Drug Enforcement Administration has struck down legal impediments to the electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

In an announcement this afternoon, the DEA issued its interim final rule allowing for the paperless prescribing of controlled substances. Publication of the new rule clears away the last barrier preventing doctors and pharmacists from shifting controlled medicines into information technology and the digital age, and it marks a dramatic victory for e-prescribing advocates.

Chain pharmacy representatives were jubilant. “This is the first time ever that there can be a coordinated e-prescribing system for both controlled and non-controlled prescription medication,” the National Association of Chain Drug Stores crowed in a statement. “The prior inability to utilize e-prescribing for controlled substances frequently was reported as a major barrier to physician adoption of e-prescribing.”

NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson said the DEA’s decision marks “truly an historic day for the healthcare system, as this rule will allow much-needed health information technology solutions to better serve patients.

“For the first time ever, electronic prescribing of controlled substances will be permitted,” Anderson added. “We thank DEA officials for issuing a workable rule to help make this technological capability a reality for physicians, pharmacies and their patients.”

NACDS and other groups have worked collaboratively over the past decade with DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services, pharmacy partners, intermediaries such as Surescripts, technology vendors, and others to extend paperless prescribing to controlled substances, which have long been restricted under former federal guidelines. In partnership with the National Community Pharmacists Association, the chain pharmacy group created Surescripts in 2001 to foster the nationwide adoption of e-prescribing and provide a network platform for its use. 

More than 97% of the nation’s chain community pharmacies now use pharmacy applications that have been tested and certified through Surescripts, according to NACDS, and the number of prescriptions routed electronically grew from 68 million in 2008 to 191 million in 2009.

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