Nineteen senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Monday, urging the Justice Department to issue regulations that would allow electronic prescribing of controlled drugs.
An arm of the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration has delayed "for years" amending regulations that prohibit electronic prescribing of controlled substances, "inhibiting wider uptake of e-prescribing and postponing the realization of this technology's benefits," the letter said.
The communication went on to say that: "Of course, any such regulations must account for the important needs of DEA and other law enforcement agency officials to prevent, investigate and prosecute drug 'diversion,' which is a serious and growing problem. We are convinced, however, that this existing technology could not only satisfy DEA's needs, but actually strengthen its ability to combat diversion."
Under DEA record-keeping requirements, prescriptions for controlled substances must be written on paper, which forces physicians who use e-prescribing technology to use both paper and electronic systems when prescribing drugs such as high-strength pain medications.
The letter was signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse ( D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Coburn, Graham, Kennedy, Specter and Whitehouse are all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing Dec. 4 on e-prescribing of controlled substances. During those hearings, Whitehouse pressed DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph Rannazzisi about how long it will take the agency to amend federal rules to permit e-prescribing of controlled substances.
According to a news release from Whitehouse, who chaired the hearing, Rannazzisi agreed to give the committee more information within two months about the status of the rule-making process, "including the announcement of proposed rule-making." And while Rannazzisi said the DEA has made e-prescribing a priority, he would not commit to a deadline on regulation changes.
Earlier this month, SureScripts, the for-profit data exchange for prescription drugs, issued a progress report on e-prescribing, indicating that only 35,000 providers are using e-prescribing systems, while 40,000 pharmacies are set up for electronic prescriptions. Still, about 35 million prescriptions will be moved this year via e-prescribing technology, according to the report, which also estimates that volume will triple in 2008.
What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.