In response to my post covering scheduled medications earlier this week, I received an interesting question from a reader- do you need a DEA number in order to prescribe medication? My immediate reaction to this question was that yes, a DEA number is most certainly required in order to prescribe medication. However, upon reviewing the intricacies of prescribing law I stood corrected.

DEA numbers are assigned to all kinds of healthcare providers from veterinarians to physicians as a way of regulating and tracking the prescribing of controlled substances. Federal law requires that healthcare providers maintain a DEA number in order to write prescriptions for these types of drugs. The key words included in this regulation are controlled substances. Under federal law, a DEA number is not technically required to write prescriptions for non-controlled medications such as antibiotics.

Although a DEA number is not mandatory for medical providers who do not plan to prescribe controlled substances, practicing without one can cause a lot of headaches. Many insurance companies use a provider’s DEA number in processing claims for prescription medications. Pharmacies also use DEA numbers as a means of identification in filling prescriptions. The Drug Enforcement Administration frowns on this practice stating “The DEA strongly opposes the use of a DEA registration number for any purpose other than the one for which it was intended, to provide certification of registration in transactions involving controlled substances”. Despite the administration’s position, using DEA numbers gives pharmacies and insurance companies a simple, standardized method for identifying providers. Practicing without one will cause hang-ups for you and your patients.

While a DEA number is not technically required for prescribing non-controlled substances at the federal level, nurse practitioners must pay close attention to state laws when it comes to prescribing. Some state laws may require NPs to obtain a DEA number. Other regulations such as a continuing medical education requirement, collaboration with a physician, and restrictions surrounding the prescribing of controlled substances also vary by state and must be closely followed.

For nearly all nurse practitioners getting a DEA number makes sense. It is likely that at some point in your practice you will want to prescribe controlled substances. Obtaining a DEA number regardless of your intention to prescribe controlled medications will also save you time and hassle in dealing with insurance companies and pharmacies allowing you to focus more on your job, patient care. 


You Might Also Like: How to Apply for a DEA Number as a Nurse Practitioner


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2 thoughts on “Do You Need a DEA Number to Write Prescriptions?”

  • That is what the NPI number is for….

    From the DEA website:
    Inappropriate Use of the DEA Registration Number

    DEA strongly opposes the use of a DEA registration number for any purpose other than the one for which it was intended, to provide certification of DEA registration in transactions involving controlled substances. The use of DEA registration numbers as an identification number is not an appropriate use and could lead to a weakening of the registration system.

    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has developed a National Provider Identification (NPI) number unique to each healthcare provider. The Final Rule for establishment of the NPI system was published in the Federal Register (FR 3434, Vol. 69, No. 15) by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 23, 2004. The effective date of this Final Rule was May 23, 2005; all covered entities must begin using the NPI in standard transactions by May 23, 2007.

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