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Florida doctors are a step closer to prescribing controlled substances via telehealth

Controlled drugs can be highly addictive. Florida classifies them in five categories called Schedules. Legislation would allow Florida doctors to prescribe drugs classified as Schedule III through V via telehealth.
Controlled drugs can be highly addictive. Florida classifies them in five categories called schedules. Legislation would allow Florida doctors to prescribe drugs classified as schedule III through V via telehealth.

A bill is back that would enable doctors to prescribe certain controlled substances via telehealth, and it’s getting bipartisan support. Doctors use telehealth to deliver healthcare services remotely through technology like the Zoom platform.

“We saw during the pandemic through the governor's executive order how well telehealth works,” said Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Hialeah, telling a House committee his bill allows physicians to prescribe certain controlled substances via telehealth consultations. “It saves time for both patients and physicians. It increases the likelihood of patients keeping their appointments and maintaining their medication regimens.”

Controlled drugs have the potential to be highly addictive. Florida classifies them in five categories, called schedules. Schedule I drugs have a high likelihood for abuse and no accepted medical use. The rest have the potential for abuse, but also have well-established medical uses.

Fabricio’s bill would allow physicians to remotely prescribe drugs like stimulants, sedatives, and anabolic steroids, which fall under schedules III through V.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Beverly Hills, is a dermatologist. He sits on the Health & Human Services Committee, which unanimously approved the bill.

“The physician would not have to have an original prescription to prescribe the substances that you described through telehealth. They just have to have a relationship with the patient, correct?” Massullo asked Fabricio, who replied, “That is correct, Doctor.”

Federal law requires that any doctor prescribing controlled substances must have evaluated the patient in person at some point.

Kamal Shair, a senior resident physician at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, calls the use of telemedicine a blessing for many of his patients during the pandemic, as he’s been able to evaluate their symptoms and provide a high level of care remotely. But he wants lawmakers to take it a step further.

“One patient that actually comes to mind who would greatly benefit from this bill is a 63-year-old gentleman named Mr. Floyd, who suffers from debilitating seizures.” Shair told the committee that the anti-seizure medications his patient needs are schedule V drugs.

“Even missing one dose could end his life. Unfortunately, he lives more than three hours away from Mayo by car and he is confined to a wheelchair, making the journey even more arduous,” Shair said. “So allowing physicians like myself to be able to prescribe these medications via telemedicine would help ease the accessibility of these lifesaving medications for patients like Mr. Floyd.”

The News Service of Florida reports current state law prohibits doctors from prescribing any controlled substance through telehealth, except for patients with psychiatric disorders, hospital patients, and those in hospice care or nursing homes.

“Thank you, Representative Fabricio, for having found the legislative unicorn,” said Chris Nuland on behalf of the Florida chapter of the American College of Physicians, “taking a complicated issue, a controversial issue, but finding a common ground on which all the parties appear to have agreed this will improve access. We will not compromise care, and we firmly support this good legislation.”

A similar proposal got unanimous approval by the Florida House last year but never made it out of the Senate. Fabricio’s bill and a companion bill are now ready for consideration by both chambers.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.