With drug overdose deaths at record highs over the past couple of years, it’s time to take a serious look at how patients get prescription drugs.
About 75% of the overdose deaths in 2021 were from opioids during a crisis that can be traced back to drug companies, pharmacies, and doctors who pushed these drugs onto patients with the false notion that they weren’t addictive.
It’s kind of like the lie they fed us during the pandemic that the vaccines were effective at stopping people from getting Covid.
Covid-19 changed the world in many ways. One big change was the explosion of the telehealth market.
Patients became reliant on using a computer or phone for telehealth appointments with doctors. Millions of patients have had access to prescription drugs through telehealth appointments.
The Biden administration is about to change that. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to go back to pre-Covid era requirements for “powerful drugs.”
The government waived the rules when the pandemic began “enabling doctors to write millions of prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin or Adderall without ever meeting patients in person.”
To get a prescription for drugs “the federal government says have the most potential to be abused,” patients will need to have an in-person appointment with the doctor.
These are drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, OxyContin, and Vicodin, for example. Refills may be prescribed over telehealth appointments.
Doctors will follow another protocol for other, less addictive drugs. Things like codeine for pain or coughing, Xanax for anxiety, and the sleep aid, Ambien, can be prescribed over telehealth but only for an initial 30-day supply.
To get a refill for any of those drugs, the patient would have to see the doctor in person.
Doctors can still prescribe common prescriptions like antibiotics, birth control, and insulin through telehealth visits.
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Telehealth access is very important for those who live in rural areas and those who can’t easily get to a doctor. The potential for abuse has the DEA performing a balancing act, however.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram called the approach to balance safety and access to telehealth an “expansion of telemedicine with guardrails.”
David Herzberg is a historian of drugs at the University of Buffalo. He said there is some concern that drug companies may be taking advantage of the “lax rules” and “overprescribing medications to people who don’t need them.”
“Both sides of this tension have really good points,” said Herzberg. “You don’t want barriers in the way of getting people prescriptions they need. But anytime you remove those barriers it’s also an opportunity for profit seekers to exploit the lax rules and sell the medicines to people who may not need them.”
The DEA noticed that some of the startup telehealth companies that grew out of the pandemic are “improperly prescribing addictive substances like opioids or attention deficit disorder medication, putting patients in danger, a DEA official told The Associated Press on Friday.”
While the new proposed rules seem like a common-sense way to deal with the abuses that have taken place, telehealth companies see it as a huge blow to their industry.