There are millions of people that are dependent on opioid medications and in most areas of the country, there are rules for doctors to follow that help their patients get the medications they need for their own personal use. In addition, these rules were instituted in order to make sure the patients receiving the drugs are not selling them instead of using them for their own pain control needs.
Safety Rule number one is: If it’s the first time a doctor is prescribing a narcotic to a patient, it must be during a face-to-face encounter. Rule number two is: there must be follow-up visits for urine testing to make sure the patients are taking the meds and not diverting them. This also shows the doctor if there are other substances that would raise an alarm.
These two safety measures were helpful in preventing the rampant misuse of opioids. However, the DEA declared that during the COVID emergency doctors can prescribe controlled substances by telemedicine for a new patient and without continued tracking of existing patients by urine tests.
It isn’t difficult to imagine the possibilities of misuse without these safety measures. Another issue is that there are a lot of rural areas where people do not have access to telemedicine and their doctor’s office is closed.
Unfortunately, we have already begun to see the results of having these two safety measures abandoned. In cases where drug dependency is strong enough pills are being purchased on the street. Eventually, that becomes too expensive for many and the switch to less expensive heroin and fentanyl Is inevitable.
The telemedicine initiative was clearly necessary in light of the COVID emergency. However, in many instances it simply created another problem that leads to overdose deaths and misuse.