New law stops potential criminalization of EMS ‘standing orders’ for timely controlled-substance use

A new bipartisan law, the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017, P.L. 115-83, signed by President Trump on November 17, 2017, amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (P.L. 91-513) to clarify that emergency medical services (EMS) professionals (including nurses, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians) are able to continue administering controlled substances (contained in schedules II, II, IV, or V) to critical patients, such as pain narcotics and anti-seizure medications, pursuant to standing (written medical protocol) or verbal (oral directive) orders when authorized by state law (Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017, P.L. 115-83, enacted November 17, 2017).

It has been a long-standing practice for medical directors of EMS agencies to write standing orders for the administration of controlled substances by EMS professionals. As reported by Emergency Physicians Monthly, in a January 2015 meeting with the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) Executive Committee to discuss possible EMS regulations, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated its position that the CSA only allows for patient-specific orders for controlled substances and that it is illegal for EMS agencies to deliver any controlled substances under written medical protocols or standing orders. Therefore, absent this new legislation, it was the position of the DEA that any regulations concerning EMS agencies would be required to prohibit the continued use of standing orders for EMS professionals.

The law also allows EMS agencies the option of having a single DEA registration in each state where the EMS agency administers controlled substances, in lieu of requiring a separate registration for each location of the EMS agency within the state, as long as certain transportation, storage, re-stocking, and recordkeeping rules for controlled substances are followed by the EMS agency. The act further provides that a hospital-based EMS agency may use the DEA registration of the hospital to administer controlled substances without an additional registration of its EMS agency.

The law was introduced as H.R. 304 in the House of Representatives by Reps. Richard Hudson (R-NC) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). The Senate version, S. 916, was introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo). H.R. 304 initially passed the House by a vote of 404-0 on January 9, 2017. It passed the Senate, as amended, by unanimous consent, on October 24, 2017.