Today’s headlines announce the latest confirmed global numbers of cases and deaths of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. We won’t know the outcome of nCoV for months, possibly years. However, we do know that overdose deaths from opioids in the U.S. increased nearly six times from 1999 to 2017 according to the latest year’s statistics reported by the CDC. In 2017, more than 47,000 people in America died from opioid overdoses. We’ve written about programs developed to combat the opioid epidemic, from fighting addiction with deep brain stimulation to wrist bands that detect overdoses. We also wrote about a Minnesota Department of Health telehealth program that showed significant progress in reducing prescription opioid use.

Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Virginia) wrote to Mr. Uttam Dhilllon, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He urged the DEA to take action to create rules that enable health care professionals to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine. Warner cited two pieces of federal legislation: the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 and the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act passed in 2018. Congress voted both acts into law specifically to help patients with substance use disorders receive medical treatment including prescriptions via telehealth.

Warner’s letter states that the DEA’s delay in producing rules to enable telehealth for substance use disorders continues despite the opioid epidemic that continues “with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas.”

We’ve written about pilot programs and studies on the advantages of telehealth and telemedicine. It’s troubling when government agencies charged with protecting the health of our citizens delay taking action even when directed to do so by law.