At the end of last year, the American Journal of Managed Care published a study — co-authored by researchers at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) — analyzing the use of electronic prescriptions for controlled substances.  This is the first study on this subject since the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) revised its regulations in 2010 to allow e-prescribing of controlled substances.  The authors also published a blog post about the study on the ONC’s website.

The study analyzed e-prescribing trends using data from July 2012 to December 2013.  During this time, the study found significant growth in the number of providers and pharmacies capable of e-prescribing or accepting e-prescriptions of controlled substances.  However, growth among pharmacies far outpaced growth among prescribers.  Specifically, as of December 2013, approximately one-third of pharmacies were equipped to handle e-prescriptions of controlled substances, while only 1% of prescribers were able to e-prescribe controlled substances.

The study speculated that the slower growth among prescribers may be caused by a lack of trust in the technology and/or the lack of incentives for prescribers to undergo the requisite identity-proofing and employ a software system compliant with DEA requirements in order to e-prescribe controlled substances.  Although pharmacies must also comply with DEA requirements, the study points out that pharmacies have a stronger business interest in e-prescribing: “if they do not keep up with the competition, they may lose business.”

The pace of growth in the use of e-prescribing for controlled substances may see increased attention from policymakers and regulators moving forward.  Abuse of prescription drugs is an increasingly important issue nationally, and e-prescribing seems to be a safer way to prescribe and track widely-abused drugs.