On August 4, 2023, the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) announced plans to host two public listening sessions, scheduled to take place on September 12 and 13, 2023 at DEA’s headquarters in Arlington, VA, to collect additional input regarding the practice of telemedicine and specifically the remote prescribing of controlled substances without conducting an in-person evaluation of patients before prescribing.
The listening sessions will be open to the public, and those who anticipate attending must register through DEA’s Diversion Control website. The registration process opens today (August 7, 2023). DEA also plans to make the listening sessions available via livestream and copies of transcripts from the sessions also will be made available at a later date on the DEA Diversion Control Program website.
FDA took two important steps last week to clarify the regulatory landscape for cannabis products, including CBD products. First, FDA issued a draft guidance on Quality Considerations for Clinical Research Involving Cannabis and Cannabis Derived Compounds. This guidance builds off of earlier guidance FDA has issued about the quality and regulatory considerations that govern the development and FDA approval of cannabis and/or cannabinoid drug products. See e.g., here and here. The draft guidance iterates a federal standard for calculating delta-9 THC content in cannabis finished products, which addresses a significant gap in federal policy regarding those products. While the testing standard is neither final nor binding on FDA or DEA, when finalized it would iterate what FDA considers to be a scientifically valid method for making the determination of whether a cannabis product is a Schedule I controlled substance. Therefore, it may be useful in many contexts, including federal and state cannabis enforcement actions. We encourage affected parties to file comments on FDA’s Guidance, which they may do until September 21, 2020.
Second, FDA sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review a proposal on how FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion over CBD consumer products. See here. While the contents of this guidance have not yet been made public, we forecast that it likely will align with FDA’s past enforcement actions and memorialize the agency’s intent to pursue enforcement actions against CBD consumer product companies that make egregious claims about their products treating or preventing serious diseases or conditions.
Guidance on Considerations for Cannabis Clinical Research
FDA’s guidance recognizes that Congress’s enactment of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (“2018 Farm Bill”) improved domestic access to pre-clinical and clinical cannabis research material that may be used in the research and development of novel therapies. However, currently marijuana only may be obtained domestically from the University of Mississippi under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While DEA issued a policy in 2016 to allow for the additional registration of marijuana cultivators for legitimate research and licit commercial purposes, the Office of Legal Counsel in June 2018 issued an opinion finding that such policy violates the United States’ obligations under applicable treaties. However, in March of this year, DEA issued a proposed rule to allow for the registration of additional cultivators of cannabis for these licit purposes. See here.
There is an alternative pathway to the procurement of Schedule I research material which FDA’s guidance does not mention: importation. Researchers may obtain certain Schedule I material pursuant to a federal DEA Schedule I importer registration, and DEA has in the past issued such registrations. See 21 CFR 1301.13(e)(1)(viii).
On April 21, 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a Request for Information (“RFI”) that reopened the comment period for an interim final rule that was published March 31, 2010 (75 FR 16236) (the “2010 IFR” or the “IFR”). The IFR is being revisited in response to the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) mandate for the DEA to update the requirements for the biometric component of multifactor authentication with respect to electronic prescriptions of controlled substances. Prior to the 2010 IFR, the only way that controlled substances could be prescribed was in writing, on paper with a wet signature. The IFR was the first time that an electronic alternative was made available for prescribing controlled substances and the DEA leveraged the technologies that were available at the time to ensure that electronic prescribing applications could not be misused to divert controlled substances.
To that end, the DEA fashioned their regulations to include measures that ensure that the prescriber verifies that they are who they said they are and that they are authorized and have the appropriate credentials to prescribe the medications that are being ordered. In other words, in order for a prescriber to be granted access to the technologies that would create, sign and transmit prescriptions for controlled substances electronically, they have to be appropriately authenticated and credentialed. In addition to requiring identity proofing and logical access controls that relied on multi-factor authentication, credentialing had to be conducted by federally approved credential service providers (CSPs) or by certification authorities (CAs). The IFR also included requirements for audit trails, security event reporting and provisions that governed the signing and transmission of electronic prescriptions to ensure that there was a process to address and resolve transmission failures.
While the IFR contemplated using biometrics to identify and authenticate prescribers, those technologies were still developing and evolving in 2010. Recently, under the SUPPORT Act, Congress required the DEA to update its regulations to identify the biometric component of the multi-factor authentication used to identity proof prescribers. The DEA is looking to the health care provider community who are currently using e-prescribing applications to share their experiences, offer suggestions and recommend new approaches that will encourage broad adoption for e-prescribing for controlled substances while still meeting the DEA’s objectives of ensuring the security and accountability necessary to identify fraud and prevent diversion.
While providers struggle to provide health care to their patients amid the coronavirus contagion concerns, recent regulatory and reimbursement changes will help ease the path to the provision of healthcare via telehealth.
On March 6, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) response funding package. In addition to providing funding for the development of treatments and public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response, the bill authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar (referred to herein as the “Secretary”), to waive Medicare restrictions on the provision of services via telehealth during this public health emergency.
Greater utilization of telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak will reduce providers’ and patients’ exposure to the virus in health care facilities. Telehealth is especially useful for mild cases of illness that can be managed at the patient’s home, thereby decreasing the volume of individuals seeking care in facilities. To further facilitate the increased utilization of telehealth, the Centers for Disease Control’s interim guidance for healthcare facilities notes that healthcare providers can communicate with patients by telephone if formal telehealth systems are not available. This allows providers to have greater flexibility when telehealth technology providers lack the bandwidth to accommodate this increase in telehealth utilization or are otherwise unavailable.
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