Senators press Justice to permit e-prescribing of controlled substances

Nineteen senators have written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, urging him to speed up Drug Enforcement Administration action to permit electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

“DEA regulations permitting [electronic prescribing for controlled substances, or EPCS] have been delayed for years, inhibiting wider uptake of e-prescribing and postponing the realization of this technology’s benefits,” the senators’ letter said.

“It is our belief that both the health care and law enforcement communities would benefit greatly from a secure EPCS system and that technological solutions are at hand. We urge your prompt attention to this matter and request that DEA issue regulations for EPCS as quickly as possible.”

The letter follows a Dec. 4 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee at which Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator in charge of the agency’s Office of Diversion Control, said he could not be specific about DEA’s plans to revise federal rules governing dispensation of controlled substances, such as painkillers, antidepressants and some drugs used to treat asthma in children. He promised to provide a timetable within two months.

E-prescribing is widely considered one of the most promising applications of health information technology because it can be implemented inexpensively, avert many potential medication errors and save money by minimizing duplicate prescriptions and adverse effects of medication.
But DEA regulations require that prescriptions for controlled substances be written on paper. Rannazzisi testified that his agency, an arm of the Justice Department, is worried about diversion of prescription drugs. Abuse of those drugs has been growing rapidly.

Controlled substances account for about 12 percent of all prescriptions, and doctors have expressed reluctance to use an automated system for some of their prescriptions and pad and pen for the others.

The letter to Mukasey was signed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who presided over the Dec. 4 hearing, and other senators from both sides of the aisle. However, it did not bear the imprimatur of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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