Controlled substance e-prescribing outlined in DEA rule

Physicians have complained that an inability to issue paperless orders for Schedule II drugs has forced them to maintain two prescription systems.

By Chris Silva — Posted April 7, 2010

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The Drug Enforcement Administration on March 24 unveiled a long-awaited interim final rule allowing the electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

The regulations are in addition to, not a replacement of, existing prescribing rules. The agency said they should give physicians, pharmacies and hospitals the ability to issue paperless controlled substance prescriptions while preserving safeguards on dispensing.

In addition, the regulations will have the potential to reduce the number of prescription errors caused by illegible handwriting and misunderstood oral prescriptions, the DEA said. The agency also expects them to increase efficiency, reduce paperwork and cut down on prescription forgery.

The effective date of the rule is 60 days from March 31, when the rule was published in the Federal Register.

Until now, DEA regulations have prohibited the use of e-prescribing for controlled substances, forcing physicians who order such drugs to maintain a separate paper prescription process in addition to any electronic system they might have.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, R.I.) called the interim final rule vital to the quality improvement of health information technology. "Allowing for electronic prescribing of controlled substances -- while maintaining rigorous controls to prevent illegal diversion and protect privacy -- is key to unleashing the vast cost saving and quality improvement potential of health information technology," Whitehouse said in a March 25 statement.

An annual report released March 2 by Surescripts, which operates the nation's largest e-prescribing network, said that despite a significant increase over the past year, the number of physicians who prescribe electronically still stands at only about one in four.

Surescripts said the DEA's interim final rule is a meaningful step toward improving patient safety.

"Properly designed and implemented, we believe that the e-prescribing of controlled substances will have a positive impact on e-prescribing adoption and use, and significantly increase the efficiency and safety of a prescribing process relied on by millions of patients every day," said Harry Totonis, Surescripts' president and CEO.

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