June 4, 2008

Whitehouse, 18 Senators Urge Attorney General to Review E-Prescribing for Controlled Substances

Hearing Demonstrated Enormous Potential, Benefits of Electronic Prescriptions

Washington, D.C. – After a Senate hearing made clear that new federal regulations allowing electronic prescribing for controlled substances are badly-needed and long-overdue, 18 senators joined U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in calling on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to review the issue and urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue new rules promptly.


“DEA regulations permitting [electronic prescribing for controlled substances, or EPCS] have been delayed for years, inhibiting wider uptake of e-prescribing, and postponing the realization of this technology’s benefits,” the senators wrote today.  “It is our belief that both the health care and law enforcement communities would benefit greatly from a secure EPCS system, and that technological solutions are at hand.  We urge your prompt attention to this matter, and request that DEA issue regulations for EPCS as quickly as possible.”


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.


In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, Whitehouse pressed DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph T. Rannazzisi, of the Office of Diversion Control, on DEA’s timeframe to revise federal rules governing dispensation of controlled substances, such as pain medications, antidepressants and some drugs used to treat asthma in children.  Current regulations require that doctors write paper prescriptions for these pharmaceuticals, with the result that that 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. 


Under questioning from Whitehouse, Rannazzisi agreed to provide the committee, within two months, with information on the timing of the rulemaking process for e-prescribing of controlled substances, including the announcement of proposed rulemaking. 


“You’ve seen intense bipartisan concern about this. This is not an issue where we’re going to go away,” Whitehouse told Rannazzisi.  “I think it’s important that the different elements of the administration be willing to look beyond their own brief and consider more broadly the cost-benefit to the country of getting past this, and move with according dispatch.”


Also signing the letter were Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Barack Obama (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).


A copy of the letter is attached.



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