On January 30, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a surge of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and investigators over the coming month and a half, focused on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of opioid drugs. The DEA will examine distribution and inventory data reported to the DEA by prescription drug manufacturers and distributors for “patterns” and “outliers” for further investigation.
Throughout 2017, the health care and life sciences industries experienced a widespread proliferation of digital health innovation that presents challenges to traditional notions of health care delivery and payment as well as product research, development and commercialization for both long-standing and new stakeholders. At the same time, lawmakers and regulators made meaningful progress toward modernizing the existing legal framework in a way that will both adequately protect patients and consumers and support and encourage continued innovation, but their efforts have not kept pace with what has become the light speed of innovation. As a result, some obstacles, misalignment and ambiguity remain.
We are pleased to bring you this review of key developments that shaped digital health in 2017, along with planning considerations and predictions for the digital health frontier in the year ahead.
Declaration of Public Health Emergency Changes Remote Prescribing Requirements but Creates Many Questions Waiting to Be Answered
President Trump declared the opioid addiction epidemic a public health emergency yesterday. The White House made it clear that this declaration would allow officials to remove barriers to the prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine, which would permit DEA registered providers to prescribe anti-addiction medications, such as Naloxone, to patients in need without first performing an in-person exam.
As background, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (the Haight Act) requires a telemedicine provider who is prescribing a controlled substance to a patient to perform an in-person medical evaluation of the patient prior to prescribing a controlled substance, unless one of the narrow telemedicine exceptions set forth in the Haight Act applies. Additional information on the Ryan Haight Act and the implications of this declaration can be found here.
There are many important questions remaining to be answered, including whether any funding will be available to support the implementation of this declaration and whether the declaration will be renewed upon its expiration in 90 days. The answers to these questions are important to healthcare providers who will need to invest resources and time into developing telemedicine programs to reach more substance use disorder patients, which may take longer than 90 days to implement.
The Opioid Crisis: Declaring a National Emergency and the Effect on Remote Prescribing through Telemedicine
On July 31, 2017, President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended that he declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency. In August 2017 and again on October 16, 2017, the president indicated he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. While it is apparent that the nation is suffering a drug overdose and opioid-specific crisis, the question remains as to what effect such a declaration would have on combatting the crisis.
The president’s powers to declare a national emergency arise from the Stafford Act, and once a national emergency is declared, it enables 1) access to US Department of Homeland Security ‒ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, with states able to request grants for the specific purposes of treating opioid addiction; 2) the ability to re-appropriate federal agency workers, such as those employed by the agencies under the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) umbrella, to specifically research and treat opioid addiction; and 3) waiver of federal Medicaid regulations to provide additional aid to beneficiaries, ensuring sufficient health care items and services are available to meet the needs of beneficiaries. Such a declaration would undoubtedly open up both federal and state governments to formulate a comprehensive, unified strategy to combat the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. (more…)