Can Online Doctors Prescribe Controlled Substances?

Getting a prescription from a doctor in person these days can be time-consuming and result in long wait times. This is why many people are often interested in exploring telehealth prescriptions. 

This has become particularly popular in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which made it difficult for patients to access prescriptions they required in person. 

In this guide, we’ll explain whether online doctors can prescribe controlled substances. We will also explain what online doctors won’t prescribe you and why this is the case. 

Table of Contents

Who Are Online Doctors?

Online doctors refer to medical professionals as well as academics who operate in an online setting. The popularity of online doctors has been steadily increasing since the early 2000s. As internet speeds increased, solutions including online doctors became more practical and accessible for patients. Today, online doctors can deliver a wide range of services online. They can provide:

  • Health care
  • Advice 
  • Prescriptions 
  • Evaluations 
  • And More 

Online doctors are fully trained and qualified. As such, they are able to provide a diagnosis as well as treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. 

Can Online Doctors Prescribe Controlled Substances?

Online doctors are legally able to prescribe controlled substances if the correct measures are taken. 

Under the Ryan Haight Act, an in-person evaluation of a patient is required before an online doctor is able to prescribe a controlled substance. As such, legally, an online doctor will only be able to prescribe a controlled substance if the patient has already been examined by a doctor in person. 

This could be completed by a doctor connected to the telehealth service being used or a separate medical professional. 

When Can an Online Doctor Prescribe Controlled Substances?

The requirements under the Ryan Haight Act were declared void by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Under the guidelines set out by DEA, online doctors are able to provide prescriptions for controlled substances to patients who have not been seen in person for the duration of the COVID0-19 pandemic. However, certain conditions are relevant. 

For instance, the online doctor must use both audio and visual communication to interact with the patient in real-time. This means that an online doctor can not prescribe a controlled substance after diagnosing a patient from a video or image that they send. Controlled substances can also not be prescribed after simply speaking to them on the phone. 

The prescription must also be issued for a medical purpose that is considered to be legitimate and needs to be relevant to the usual course that an online doctor would take. 

Furthermore, an online doctor can only prescribe a controlled substance if they are legally able to based on state law. This means that if a state requires an in-person evaluation then an online doctor will not be able to provide a prescription for a controlled substance to a patient in that location. 

It is also worth noting that the COVID-19 changes to prescription regulations by the DEA are set to expire after May 11th, 2023. However, the DEA has already proposed new telehealth prescription guidelines. This would ban prescriptions for schedule II controlled substances including Ritalin and Vicodin without an in-person evaluation while allowing 30-day supplies for buprenorphine as well as various other Schedule III-V drugs. 

Can You Get Controlled Substances From an Online Doctor?

While legally an online doctor is able to provide controlled substances to patients, it is unlikely that you will be able to access them using a service like this. The reason for this is that the majority of telehealth services prohibit prescriptions for substances like this. 

The legal requirements are complicated and also depend on local state laws. Due to this, most services will avoid them altogether and will recommend that you do seek out an in-person evaluation for controlled substances. 

Controlled substances are considered more dangerous compared to other medications that you can receive from a doctor. There is a risk of overdosing as well as the development of addictive behavior if prescriptions like this are not managed correctly. 

Overall, What Won’t Online Doctors Prescribe You?

Overall, a doctor will not prescribe controlled substances to patients online. It’s worth noting that this is the case regardless of whether local laws allow for this. 

Online doctors are still medical professionals and would rather a patient be seen in person before a prescription like this is provided. Again, the reason for this is that these drugs are considered to be dangerous if they are not used and prescribed correctly

That said, an online doctor can provide repeat prescriptions for a wide range of medications that you may need to treat or manage medical conditions that you are currently experiencing. 

What Can Online Doctors Prescribe? 

Online doctors are able to prescribe virtually everything an in-person doctor would prescribe. The only exception is controlled substances and medications. Some examples of the medication a doctor will prescribe online include:

A telehealth marketing service will usually have a full list of the prescriptions that they currently offer. You might also be able to search for specific prescriptions to check whether you will be able to access these from your online doctor. Remember, if you do need a controlled substance, it is always worth booking an in-person evaluation. 

Key Takeaways 

In conclusion, legally due to emergency exceptions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible for online doctors to prescribe controlled substances to their patients. Online doctors are medical professionals with the qualifications required to complete prescriptions like this. 

However, they must interact with a patient in real-time using both video and audio tools. This must also be in conjunction with state law. There are many states that do not allow for online prescriptions of controlled substances. 

Due to this, most telehealth services will not allow their medical professionals to provide these types of prescriptions. However, they can provide prescriptions for a range of other medications a patient may need. 


DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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