Portland, Oregon, October 11, 2023 – Overwhelmed by nearly 40,000 public comments and two days of expert testimony, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced this week that it would extend the COVID-19 telemedicine flexibilities regarding prescription of controlled substances through December, 2024. Over 10,000 of those comments came from terminally ill patients, family members, and caregivers, hand-delivered to the DEA by a coalition led by Death with Dignity, Completed Life Initiative (CLI) and the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying.
The proposed changes would have forced patients to meet with their physician in person to receive pain control medication, even in the face of a terminal disease. The rules allowing telemedicine, which will stay in place for now, were adopted during the COVID pandemic.
“The 10,000 petitions we delivered from patients and caregivers were a wake-up call to the DEA,” said Dr. Peg Sandeen, CEO of Death with Dignity. “This extension is a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to ensure better access to critical pain medications for relieving the suffering of terminally ill patients. Together, we have made a remarkable impact, and this victory is a testament to the power of our collective advocacy.”
Dr. Robin Plumer helped deliver those letters directly to the DEA and later testified in a public hearing on the proposed rules changes. A 30-year ER physician who now focuses on end-of-life care, Dr. Plumer told the DEA that banning telemedicine would place undue burdens on patients at the end of life.
“The terminally ill patients I care for don’t just live in cities near major medical centers. We all know the challenges our healthcare system has in delivering quality care to rural areas. For the terminally ill, this problem is even worse, for they lack easy access to specialized physicians who can provide the care they need.
“Telemedicine has become so accepted in general medical practice since COVID that the thought of withdrawing this option seems like a giant step backwards. It certainly will not enhance compassionate care for terminally ill patients. Our goal as medical practitioners is to reduce suffering, and provision of needed medications is a huge part of this,” Dr. Plumer testified.
According to the DEA, the federal agency will revisit the rules over the course of 2024, and release a revised set of rules in the fall of 2024.
“We will continue to monitor this issue closely to ensure that care for dying patients is not harmed by the DEA’s desire to put an end to opioid prescription abuse. Terminally ill patients must not be forced to adhere to a set of DEA rules that do not consider their unique situation and place them at risk of greater suffering at the end of life,” said Dr. Sandeen, CEO of Death with Dignity.
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