The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has proposed a change to the rules around telemedicine. We want to help you understand all the facts, but before we get into the details, let’s be clear: A proposal is not a law, and as of today, there’s absolutely no change in your care plan with Ophelia. Just as important: We — along with The American Telemedicine Association (ATA), advocacy groups, and harm reduction agencies — are fighting this change in order to ensure your care continues uninterrupted. But even though there’s nothing to worry about right now, it’s important to stay informed and learn how you can get involved and be your own advocate. Read on as we answer all your questions.
Why is the DEA proposing a change “out of the blue”?
During Covid, something called the COVID Public Health Emergency (PHE) went into effect, and it made it possible for people with opioid addiction to get their Suboxone® prescription via an online visit — no in-person visit required. But the PHE is set to expire on May 11, so the DEA is proposing new rules.
What, exactly, is the DEA proposing?
They want telemedicine patients to be required to have one in-person visit with a clinician in order to continue accessing online prescriptions for Suboxone (as well as other controlled substances).
Should you worry that telehealth will go away?
No. Before telemedicine for opioid addiction, getting effective treatment depended on where you lived. There are still far too many counties with no providers who are licensed to prescribe Suboxone, not to mention other barriers (commute, wait times, stigma, privacy, childcare) that make in-person treatment an outdated model. Telemedicine addresses all these obstacles and, frankly, keeps more people alive. Bottom line: Even if new rules present some challenges that we’ll have to navigate, Ophelia is here to stay.
What is Ophelia doing to fight against this proposal?
Everything and anything we can! We’re hopeful that this proposal won’t actually go into effect, but that doesn’t mean we’re sitting idly on the sidelines. We are advocating with the DEA, HHS (Health and Human Services), the White House, and Congress to make the voice of telehealth heard on this issue. We are communicating directly with lobbying groups and government officials, and planning around every potential scenario to ensure your care is not interrupted.
Is Ophelia fighting this battle alone?
That’s a good question, and the answer is no. We are in this with virtually every other telemedicine company that provides addiction care. That’s great news, because there is power in the collective voice.
Why does the DEA want to make it harder for patients who already struggle enough?
They are claiming that requiring an in-person visit is for the patient’s best interest and safety. But we already know that when care becomes harder to access, it has the opposite effect. There is no logic behind the idea that making patients go to an arbitrary in-person visit keeps them safer.
If the proposal passes, will my care be suddenly interrupted?
Absolutely not. Even if the proposal passes, you can still access your care and prescriptions online. For current patients or those who start Ophelia treatment before May 11, one in-person visit with a clinician would need to happen sometime before November 2023. That gives you several months to find a local clinician, and you won’t have to do it alone. We’ll be right by your side and help you every step of the way.
What if I’m not an Ophelia patient yet but thinking about becoming one?
Don’t let this proposal stop you; we’re still here and the care we offer hasn’t changed. Even if you become a telemedicine patient after May 11, you can still begin treatment and receive your first prescription for Suboxone via an online appointment. The only difference is that you’ll have to fulfill the in-person appointment requirement within 30 days if the proposal passes.
Wait, will I need an in-person appointment every 30 days going forward?
No. If the proposal passes, you’ll only need one appointment, in total.
Am I allowed to be angry over this proposal?
Absolutely. We are too. The science is unequivocal: The only effective treatment for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Medication like Suboxone makes patients far more successful in treatment and less likely to overdose. Regulatory changes during the pandemic were a game-changer for those who needed treatment but couldn’t easily access it. Any rules that introduce arbitrary and unnecessary hoops to jump through are infuriating — and they could cost people their lives.
How do we turn our anger into action?
Use your voice! Tell the DEA how telemedicine for opioid addiction is changing your life. Ask your friends and family to do the same and shout from the rooftops that telehealth is a literal life-saver. You have until the end of March to submit your comments, so set yourself a reminder (or take five minutes and do it now).
There are two ways to submit your comments. You can do it online here. You can post anonymously or with your name if you want to. The DEA is required to read EVERY comment. You can also send your comments by mail to:
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
Attn: DEA Federal Register Representative/DPW
8701 Morrissette Drive, Springfield, VA 22152.
(Be sure to refer to document number DEA-2023-0028-0001.)
One last word:
Addiction treatment in America has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. When regulatory obstacles arise, that makes us even more committed to the kind of compassionate, accessible care that Ophelia exists to provide. We aren’t backing down. We aren’t worried. We’re simply fighting the good fight for as long as it takes. Because you deserve the best (and most easily accessible) care possible.