May 7, 2009

Eleven Senators Urge Progress on Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances

Whitehouse, Others Say E-Prescribing Will Play Vital Role in Health Reform

Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators today asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to quickly put federal regulations in place that would allow electronic prescribing for controlled substances.

U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kerry (D-MA), John Thune (R-SD), and Richard Burr (R-NC) said they believe now is the right time to make progress.

“This issue is particularly important with broader health care reform looming on the horizon,” the senators wrote. “While e-prescribing is by no means the key to reform, it is an important piece of the puzzle.”

Studies show that widespread e-prescribing, used today in about 18 percent of doctors’ practices, could save $20 billion annually, as patients would experience fewer adverse drug events (ADEs) and would be more likely to adhere to a medication regimen. The Center for Information Technology Leadership (CITL) found that a national e-prescribing system could prevent 2.1 million ADEs – 130,000 of which are life-threatening – and 190,000 hospitalizations per year.

But current federal rules require that doctors write paper prescriptions for controlled pharmaceuticals, such as pain medications, antidepressants and some drugs used to treat asthma in children. As a result, most doctors resort to writing all their prescriptions by hand rather than maintain a paper system for controlled substances and an electronic system for non-controlled substances.

After four years of inaction, last June the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued a new draft rule that would lift the prohibition against e-prescribing for controlled substances. The rule has not yet been finalized. The proposed rule came after a December 2007 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Whitehouse and Coburn pressed a DEA official on the agency’s timeframe to revise the existing rules. “You’ve seen intense bipartisan concern about this. This is not an issue where we’re going to go away,” Whitehouse said then.

“As DEA moves towards a final rule, it is vital to remember that e-prescribing of controlled substances is an issue involving serious health care and law enforcement concerns,” the group of senators wrote today. “Crafting a final rule that advances both health care quality and efficiency, and reduces illegal prescription drug diversion, will require the cooperation, compromise, and knowledge of experts at both the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“In the past, this process has been decelerated and derailed by disagreements between your Departments. We are now in a new year, a new Congress, and a new Administration, it is our sincere hope that this process will move forward in a collaborative and expeditious manner.”

A PDF copy of the signed letter is attached.


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