Permitting Telemedicine Prescriptions

Jonathan P. Novak

In life, the adage you often hear is “tis better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”  And while this attitude may lead to little white lies and second helpings of dessert, it is not the way to deal with questions surround your DEA registration.
I’ve often been asked by physicians the legality of prescribing over the internet or otherwise performing “telemedicine.” The simplest answer I can give is this: do not perform any form of telemedicine unless you are already expressly permitted to do so by DEA. 

Under the Controlled Substances Act, DEA may grant a special registration to a practitioner seeking to prescribe via the internet.  However, the application for such a registration must include “a demonstration of a legitimate need for this special registration.”  Under the CSA and the Code of Federal Regulations, DEA contemplates telemedicine only in the rarest occasions, perhaps temporarily granted when acting as a covering physician for the patient, or under such extreme circumstances as would necessitate this extreme measure.  It is worth noting that practitioners working for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs may be able to obtain such exemption to this rule and seek the special registration through the nature of their occupation.

While the world, and technology, moves forward, it is easy to see DEA as dragging its Luddite feet as we move into new eras of mobile body scanners and better communication technology.  But remember, DEA’s regulations and laws are grounded in state laws defining bonafide physician-patient relationship, which nearly universally require in-person examinations of patients prior to prescribing.

When in doubt, it is always better to ask DEA permission first; DEA seldom grants forgiveness.

Mr. Novak is a former attorney for the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.  Jonathan is now working nationwide representing public entities, including counties, cities, and Native American tribes, in litigation against manufacturers and distributors of opioid controlled substances, as well as providing education and legal guidance on state and federal controlled substance regulations.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding regulatory compliance, state or federal enforcement action on your controlled substance or pharmacy registration, or if you represent a public entity interested in learning more about potential litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors, please contact Jonathan directly ([email protected] )

This blog is for informational purposes only and meant to provide general insight and commentary; it is not meant to convey specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship of any kind. The information contained in this blog is opinion based and should not be used as a substitute for skilled legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.