E-prescriptions: Tackling Opioid Abuse

By: Abraham Kornbluth

A few years ago, a visit to your physician’s office often resulted in the doctor handing you an entirely illegible handwritten prescription for drugs which your pharmacist magically deciphered with ease before dispensing your medication. Not so much anymore.

With the ever-evolving concept of Telemedicine under the umbrella of Telehealth came the idea of e-prescriptions.[1] E-prescribing, as defined by Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, is simply “a prescriber's ability to electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point-of-care.”[2]

In June of 2010, the DEA released a rule which allowed providers to issue prescriptions for controlled substances such as opiates and pharmacies to receive, dispense and archive these scripts electronically nationwide.[3] Nevertheless, many pharmacies and practitioners (especially outside of the urban areas) are yet to implement e-prescribing.[4] The leading reason being the cost of implementing the systems and software to run it.[5]

A few months into his presidency, in August 2017, President Trump declared the nationwide opioid crisis a national emergency and vowed to combat it.[6] One important development in this field is the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act (EPCS) introduced on July 28, 2017 in the U.S. House of Representatives.[7] Once the bill receives the go ahead, it will become mandatory for every controlled substance to have an e-prescription under Medicare Part D.[8]

As the country battles with rising cases of opioid overdoses and deaths, federal agencies are looking for new ways to halt the epidemic. One such vital tool to outsmart the opioid mayhem is health information technology. The EPCS Act, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, aims to put an end to duplicative or fraudulent handwritten prescriptions that people use to procure opioids.[9] The new bill filed at Capitol Hill would make e-prescription mandatory for all controlled substances, nationwide. This would immediately help to rein in elements that fuel the opioid epidemic across the United States. When this law comes into effect, it will establish more stringent oversight of how opioids and other addictive drugs are dispensed.[10] The doctor shopping and fraudulent transactions in pharmacies, rampant in some parts of the country, will hopefully come to an end when the e-prescription bill becomes the law.

Announcing the legislation, Clark said, “Congress should come together to pass this common-sense solution to prevent overdoses and save lives.”[11] “When all the doctors and pharmacists begin to use an online database while prescribing any highly addictive drugs, the e-prescriptions will have the capacity to control, track, and monitor these substances in a more efficient way,” Mullin said.[12]

The EPCS Act cannot come sooner, as communities and families across the nation continue to suffer rising losses of human life to opioid abuse the buck must stop here. The impact of e-prescribing technology, when properly utilized could have a significant influence on the national prescription pill abuse and save thousands of lives every year. President Trump is correct, it is indeed a national emergency, which thankfully the federal government is acknowledging and choosing to tackle.


[1] Online Prescribing, Ctr. for connected health pol’y, http://www.cchpca.org/online-prescribing-0 (last visited Aug. 31, 2017).

[2] Adopted Standard and Transactions, Ctr. for Medicare and Medicare Serv. https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/E-Health/Eprescribing/Adopted-Standard-and-Transactions.html (last modified Apr. 2, 2013).

[3] Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances (EPCS), Diversion Control Division, http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/ecomm/e_rx/ (last visited Aug. 31, 2017).

[4] Jeffrey Bendrix, E-prescribing is benefitting healthcare system, but barriers to adoption remain, ModernMedicine Network (Apr. 15, 2014), http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/content/tags/e-prescribing/e-prescribing-benefitting-healthcare-system-barriers-ad.

[5]Id.

[6] Ali Vitali & Corky Siemaszko, Trump Declares Opioid Crisis National Emergency, NBC News (Aug. 10, 2017, 5:38 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/americas-heroin-epidemic/trump-declares-opioid-crisis-national-emergency-n791576.

[7] Mike Miliard, National e-prescribing bill gains support as Trump declares opioid state of emergency, Health IT news (Aug. 11, 2017, 1:42 PM), http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/national-e-prescribing-bill-gains-support-trump-declares-opioid-state-emergency.

[8] Id.

[9] Clark, Mullin Urge E-prescriptions to Combat Opioid Overdoses, U.S. Congresswoman Katherine Clark (Aug. 09, 2017), http://katherineclark.house.gov/index.cfm/2017/8/clark-mullin-urge-e-prescriptions-to-combat-opioid-overdoses.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

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