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National Council Continues Push for Behavioral Health Telehealth Solutions

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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

National Council Continues Push for Behavioral Health Telehealth Solutions

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The National Council has been a longtime advocate for changing federal regulations that restrict how behavioral health medications that are controlled substances can be prescribed via telemedicine. Recognizing the urgent need to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other behavioral health medications, the National Council worked closely with Members of Congress to secure a provision in the opioid legislative package (SUPPORT Act) that would address this problem. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) now has until October 1, 2019 to clarify when the agency can issue prescribers a special registration that would enable them to treat patients for the first time via telemedicine.

BACKGROUND

Current regulations, established as the result of the Ryan Haight Act, prohibit the prescribing of controlled substances over the internet with narrow exceptions for telemedicine. In practice, meeting these exceptions typically requires that a patient being treated via telemedicine be physically located in a facility registered through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to receive a prescription for a controlled substance. These regulations stand as a barrier for many mental health and addiction treatment clinics as they may not meet the narrow requirements for registration with the DEA in all states. Thus, this leaves clinics unable to offer patients access to much-needed medications to treat certain mental illnesses and addictions via telemedicine.

NATIONAL COUNCIL ADVOCACY EFFORTS

The National Council recently wrote a letter to the DEA urging the agency to act immediately to resolve medication access issues by using their existing regulatory authority or through the new special registration process mandated by the 2018 SUPPORT Act. While the SUPPORT Act’s special registration provision is a step in the right direction for allowing more providers to administer MAT via telemedicine, the final decision of which provider types will be included falls to the DEA and no draft guidance has yet been released. The National Council continues to work closely with the DEA on developing a registration pathway to be more inclusive of community mental health and addiction treatment providers across the country.

Additionally, the National Council is aiming to bolster the actions already taken within the SUPPORT Act by reintroducing the Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act of 2018. This bill, introduced in the last Congress by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), would specifically name community mental health centers and addiction treatment centers as eligible sites to register with DEA to offer patients access to MAT and other medications via telemedicine. Although the DEA may choose to include these sites under the provisions included in the SUPPORT Act, this bill would ensure their inclusion regardless of the DEA’s final regulations.

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