Lawmakers pressure DEA to okay e-prescribing for controlled substances

December 28, 2007

The Drug Enforcement Administration won't let doctors e-prescribe controlled substances, and that's a big barrier for e-prescribing in general.

The Drug Enforcement Administration won't let doctors e-prescribe controlled substances, and that's a big barrier for e-prescribing in general. The reason? Doctors don't like to use multiple prescribing methods. If they're forced to write prescriptions for narcotics by hand, they're also inclined to take the manual approach for ordinary drugs like beta blockers. It's one reason why only 2 percent of prescriptions in 2007—excluding those for controlled substances—were transmitted directly from a clinician's computer to a pharmacy's computer (the technical definition of e-prescribing).

The DEA says it's committed to revising its regulations to permit e-prescribing for controlled substances, as long as safeguards are built in to minimize drug diversion. However, U.S lawmakers from both sides of the aisle think the DEA is not just cautious, but guilty of foot-dragging after several years of studying the issue. Earlier this month, 19 senators wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking him to spur the DEA into action. Automatic features of e-prescribing such as audit trails, the senators wrote, "would actually strengthen (the DEA's) ability to combat diversion."

Signing the letter were Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Barack Obama (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).