Can telemedicine prescribe controlled substances?

This blog answers: Can telemedicine prescribe controlled substances? What is telemedicine? What are controlled substances?

Can telemedicine prescribe controlled substances?

Generally speaking, most telemedicine services do not prescribe controlled substances.  Controlled substances require a prescription from a doctor, and the patients who take them are constantly being monitored by their doctors and families.

However, telemedicine can prescribe controlled substances when there is a health crisis. Covid-19 has changed the whole situation. Although it is generally illegal to prescribe controlled substances through telemedicine, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allows telemedicine to prescribe some controlled medications.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that we discussed earlier doesn’t apply to situations of emergency. Covid-19 is a global emergency situation and, therefore, a valid exception to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

However, this applies only to schedule 2-5 medications. Schedule 1 controlled substances are so unsafe that they aren’t allowed to be prescribed via telemedicine even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Technically, telemedicine can prescribe controlled substances, but within certain limitations and only under emergency situations. The reason for that is, although telemedicine makes healthcare highly accessible and affordable for everyone, it also has some serious limitations. It may fragment the healthcare system.

Telemedicine makes access to medicine very easy, which may lead to an overuse of medical care. It may also lead to inappropriate use of medicines and overlapping care. Controlled substances already have a high potential for abuse, and these substances are very unsafe as well. Mishandling of controlled substances can be potentially fatal.

What is telemedicine?

The use of modern online information and communication technology to practice and prescribe medicine for the purpose of delivering remote care is known as telemedicine. In telemedicine, there is no in-person contact between the clinician and the patient.

Clinicians can also remotely monitor their patients using telemedicine technologies. Telemedicine is increasingly getting common. The current covid-19 pandemic has speeded up the use of telemedicine even further.

Because in-person contact with people is unhealthy during the pandemic, telemedicine is a very good and effective alternative to traditional medical and health services. Telemedicine allows us to remotely manage chronic conditions of patients, manage medications, and consult health specialists.

The global healthcare system is evolving through innovative technologies. Telemedicine makes it possible to deliver effective healthcare services to remote areas. It also reduces the cost of seeking and acquiring health services, both financially and in terms of time. It is telemedicine that has enabled us to offer and acquire healthcare services during the covid-19 pandemic.

What are controlled substances?

Controlled substances are drugs or medications that have the potential for abuse. Due to their potential for abuse, the use of controlled substances is generally illegal. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) regards the use of controlled substances without any valid prescription as illegal.

These drugs and medications are regulated by the CSA. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) comes under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. Controlled substances are generally divided into five schedules based on the severity of their potential for abuse:

Schedule 1

Schedule 1 drugs refer to controlled medications that have the highest potential for abuse. These are drugs that are extremely unsafe to use and do not have any acceptable medical use as of now. Methaqualone is one example of schedule 1 controlled substance. Marijuana is an exception to this list in some countries, such as the United States.

Schedule 2

Schedule 2 drugs also have a high potential for abuse, but relatively less than schedule 1 substances. They also don’t have an acceptable medical use as of now and are very unsafe. Examples include cocaine and methadone.

Schedule 3

Schedule 3 controlled substances have less severe potential for abuse as compared to schedule 1 and schedule 2 substances. Another difference is that they have some medical use in the United States. Codeine is an example of a schedule 3 drug.

Schedule 4

Schedule 4 drugs also have a limited potential for abuse compared to schedule 3 substances. They have acceptable medical use. Xanax is a popular example of schedule 4 medication.

Schedule 5

Schedule 5 medications have the lowest potential of abuse among all controlled substances. They have some acceptable medical uses as well. Examples include cough syrups containing codeine.


Controlled substances are drugs or medications that are unsafe and have a high risk of developing an addiction. Generally, it is illegal to use controlled medication without prescription and prescribing it via telemedicine. However, public health emergency situations allow telemedicine to prescribe schedule 2-5 controlled substances.

Frequently Asked Questions: Can telemedicine prescribe controlled substances?

What are some precautions that must be followed while prescribing controlled substances through telemedicine?

Prescriptions should be issued only for valid medical uses, and there must be real-time two-way communication between the practitioner and the patient.

What’s the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telemedicine refers only to prescribing medicines through online systems, while telehealth covers a wide range of online healthcare services.

What’s the difference between schedules of drugs and classes of drugs?

Drug schedules refer to the classification of drugs on the basis of their potential for abuse, while drug classes refer to the classification of drugs on the basis of their properties.

Can virtual doctors prescribe narcotics? 

According to a new explanation from the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), healthcare providers can now use telehealth technology to prescribe a controlled substance to a person.

What can telemedicine prescribe?

Telemedicine can be helpful for some conditions like: 

  • The common cold.
  • Flu.
  • Allergies.
  • Skin conditions that are minor.
  • Problems with behavior and mental health.
  • Sores from the cold.
  • Male erectile dysfunction