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Charleston Business

Sidebar: DEA Clarifies Rules About Prescribing Controlled Substances

Aug 17, 2022 04:07PM ● By Liv Osby

While licensed doctors who prescribe controlled substances like opioids are given a registration number by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that appears on their prescriptions, the DEA says the agency’s role is sometimes misunderstood.

“We do not tell prescribers how (or) what they can prescribe, so we do not issue or restrict medical licenses,” said DEA Special Agent Chuvalo J. Truesdell.

That’s a function of state or local government, he said, though he adds that some doctors are indeed worried enough to curtail or stop prescribing controlled substances.

“DEA issues the (number),” he said, “which can be used to issue controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes while a practitioner is acting in the usual course of their professional practice.” 

But if a practitioner writes a prescription or distributes these medications for anything other than a legitimate purpose, that could be a potential violation of the law, Truesdell said.

“DEA’s mission is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations and to investigate and bring to justice those who grow, manufacture, or distribute substances destined for illicit use,” he said. “Only if there is reason for DEA to investigate a prescriber, we will – we do not monitor individual prescriptions, but rather monitor for signs of diversion.”

Providers must also comply with state prescribing laws, he said, adding that the DEA may be “unfairly blamed” when a practitioner isn’t comfortable prescribing these medications.

In the Palmetto State, the Department of Health and Environmental Control operates a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program called SCRIPTS – the South Carolina Reporting and Identification Prescription Tracking System – “for controlled substance prescriptions a patient has had filled … as well as the prescriber who prescribed them and the dispenser who dispensed them.”

Mandated by the General Assembly in 2006, it was designed to help clinicians make the most informed decisions when prescribing controlled drugs and to improve the ability to identify and stop drug diversion “without impeding on proper medical utilization,” says its director, Chelsea Townsend.

Regulators only have access to SCRIPTS when conducting an active drug-related investigation involving a specific doctor, she said, not to track doctors’ daily prescribing patterns for law enforcement purposes.

“None of our DHEC drug control agents is accessing this without an active drug investigation,” she said. “We take this very seriously.”

The program does track general trends and statistics – such as the number of users by role type and prescribing trends by drug classes – for educational presentations and annual reports, DHEC reports.

And it found that the number of controlled substances dispensed statewide dropped by more than 16 percent between 2016 and 2021.