President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency on Thursday, loosening restrictions on telehealth addiction treatment and prescribing.
Although Trump said he will outline specific recommendations for combatting the opioid epidemic after he receives a final report from a presidential commission next week, Thursday’s action will allow remote prescribing of drugs commonly used for substance abuse or mental health treatment, according to the White House. The Department of Health and Human Services noted that the declaration would allow the agency to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to expand telehealth addiction treatment.
The American Telemedicine Association, which has been urging the DEA to update legislation and expand the use of virtual visits for addiction treatment, praised the president’s decision.
“Allowing physicians to prescribe controlled substances by telemedicine to treat patients with addictions, using medication assisted treatments, is a very positive move and one that will certainly help more patients to access high quality treatment,” ATA President Peter Yellowlees, M.D., said in a statement.
Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White called the opportunity for telehealth addiction treatment “a welcome and laudable reform,” but he also urged the administration to utilize prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) data and reform substance abuse privacy laws to allow physicians to view information about a patient’s past addictions.
Earlier this week, the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness called for private health plans to have access to PDMP data to track prescribing patterns.
Broadly, Trump’s declaration was met with some skepticism among provider trade groups, who categorized it as “an empty promise,” and Democrats criticized the plan for a lack for meaningful funding.