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Michael Petruzzelli

Director, Federal Policy and Advocacy

New Bill Expands Access to Telehealth for Mental Illness, Substance Use Disorder

August 8, 2019 | Addictions | Telehealth | Comments
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New legislation introduced in Congress this week would expand access to telemedicine for mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act of 2019 (S. 2244/H.R. 4131) would amend regulations for the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 and specifically name community mental health centers and addiction treatment centers as eligible sites to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine.

The Ryan Haight Act created regulatory guardrails for safe online pharmacy practices. In the implementation of the law, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) definition of eligible “hospital or clinic” requires that entities be “licensed by the state.” This definition excludes legitimate treatment providers that are otherwise recognized by county or state governments to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine. While this issue only applies in a few select states, the law currently limits patient access to controlled substance via telemedicine, including access to medications for ADHD and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

In March, 2018, National Council member Richard Nance of the Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the impact the current regulations have on rural providers who are unable to offer MAT via telemedicine. Nance shared that in the frontier areas of Utah, such as the town of Bluff, “it can take up to ten hours round-trip including an overnight stay,” for an addiction provider to travel to see a patient in need of MAT.

The Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act is a longstanding priority for the National Council and one we are excited to see reintroduced in the 116th Congress. The bill sponsors include: Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Rob Wittman (R-VA). The National Council thanks these legislators for their leadership on this important issue and looks forward to working with them to see this bill through to passage.