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Telehealth increased prescription access during COVID public health emergency. That’s about to change

When the COVID-19 public health emergency expires on May 11, people will no longer be able to use only telehealth to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances.

Providers can prescribe an initial 30-day supply to clients who’ve never been examined in person, but they will have to visit a provider in person within that month in order to continue receiving their medication.

The prescriptions affected by the change range from drugs considered to have high potential for abuse, like Adderall and fentanyl, to those with lower potential, like testosterone and cough syrups.


For some, access to certain medications can mean the difference between living and dying of an overdose.

Dr. Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers San Diego said under the emergency order, telehealth greatly increased access to addiction treatment medications like buprenorphine, which he described as the, “most important weapon” they have against the opioid and overdose crisis that kills one or two San Diegans every day.

Ramers said Family Health Centers won’t let this change in procedure get in the way of providing life-saving care.

“The message to patients is that we will take care of you no matter what,” he said. “The rules changes and these kind of technicalities are not going to stop our will to keep doing that.”

In-person visits will be even harder for those facing higher barriers to access, like lack of housing, transportation or time.


The Health Resources and Services Administration found that more than 500,000 people live in an area of San Diego County with a shortage of primary care providers. That means they may have to wait longer or drive farther to see a doctor. The administration considers telehealth a vital tool for improving health equity.

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