e-Prescribing Controlled Substances Now Legal Nationwide

August 31, 2015

A legal barrier to electronic prescribing has finally crumbled.

Although the percentage of clinicians who electronically transmit their prescriptions to the pharmacy reached 56% last year, advocates of the technology say their movement has been held back by state laws that require old-fashioned, hard-copy scripts for controlled substances. The hassle of having to switch back and forth from computer to prescription pad, depending on the drug, has deterred some clinicians from bothering with e-prescribing in the first place.

That hassle is now gone. On August 28, Vermont became the final state to allow e-prescribing for all controlled substances, including schedule 2 painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, according to Surescripts, a networking company that routes most of the electronic prescriptions transmitted to pharmacies.

Before Friday, Vermont permitted e-prescribing for only schedule 3, schedule 4, and schedule 5 drugs.

Surescripts spokesperson Kelly Jeffers told Medscape Medical News that extending e-prescribing to controlled substances helps combat opioid abuse. Safeguards built into the technology, she said, make it harder for addicts and drug peddlers to forge prescriptions.

Now the challenge is to educate clinicians about the opportunity they have to e-prescribe controlled substances, and what is required on their part, said Jeffers. For starters, they must have their e-prescribing software upgraded to meet standards set by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This means contacting their software vendor. Many vendors will perform the upgrade at no cost, although others charge for it, according to Jeffers. So far, only 4% of e-prescribers have had their software tweaked to handle controlled substances.

This lack of readiness, along with the legacy of unfriendly state regulations, helps explain why controlled substances represent a miniscule percentage of all prescriptions electronically transmitted to pharmacies. Of the 1.2 billion e-prescriptions Surescripts routed in 2014, only 1.7 million, or 0.14%, were for controlled substances.

However, the number of e-prescriptions for controlled substances is snowballing, according to Surescripts. The company, created by the pharmacy industry, routed 4 million of them in just the first half of 2015.

More information about e-prescribing controlled substances, and how to do it, is available on the Surescripts website.

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