In the United States, physicians—as well as nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), depending on where they practice—often prescribe controlled substances to patients who have a medical need. A DEA license is integral to this process.
But the ability to prescribe these kinds of medicines doesn’t inherently come with an academic degree. As you might expect, there is heavy regulation on who is authorized to write prescriptions for controlled substances.
Read on to learn more about what a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) license is and how to obtain one.
What Is a DEA License?
A DEA license grants qualified medical providers the legal authority to prescribe controlled substances in the US. The Drug Enforcement Administration regulates the prescribing and distribution of controlled medications such as narcotics and sedatives. Therefore, in order to prescribe controlled substances, a physician or mid-level practitioner needs to have an active license.
A DEA license is separate from a state medical license or controlled substance permit. Upon approval, the provider is assigned a DEA number. The DEA number is typically provided on the prescription of a controlled substance medication and has two letters, six numbers, and one check digit. The pharmacist filling the medication will use this number to verify that the prescriber is authorized to order controlled medications.
Who Needs a DEA License?
Typically, a DEA license is needed for physicians, NPs, PAs, pharmacists, optometrists, and dentists who want to work in a medical facility.
How Do I Get a DEA License?
To obtain a DEA license, you’ll first need to meet the licensing requirements of the state in which you’re practicing medicine. It depends on your state, but you may also need a state permit for controlled substances before you can even apply for a DEA license.
Once you’ve satisfied those requirements, the next step is to apply. If you’re a doctor, NP, PA, or dentist, you’ll need to fill out DEA Form 224 online.
This form will ask you pertinent questions about your business activities, prescribing schedules, background with controlled substances, and more. Pay the associated fee, and wait for your application to process.
How Much Does a DEA License Cost?
As of September 2023, it costs $888 for a three-year DEA license.
How Often Do DEA Licenses Need to Be Renewed?
Your DEA license needs to be renewed every three years using one of the renewal application forms on the DEA website. Like your initial license, a renewal costs $888.
You should submit your application for a license renewal at least 45 days before it lapses. This will give you a grace period to continue prescribing medication as the Drug Enforcement Administration processes your renewal.
When Do I Need to Update My DEA License?
Each time you work in a different state, the DEA registration needs to be updated to include your current practice site.
For example, if a provider was previously working in Ohio but is now working in Colorado, they will be unable to prescribe controlled substances in Colorado until they change their registration to Colorado. The good news is that there are no fees associated with changing your license to a different state. The process often takes 48 hours to update in an official capacity.
Is There a DEA License Lookup Tool?
Yes! If you’re already a DEA registrant, you can verify registration through the agency’s online tool.
Can DEA Licenses Be Confiscated?
A provider’s license may be confiscated if the prescriber is thought to be practicing negligently and/or due to malpractice. It may also be suspended if your state license to practice has been revoked or denied, or if you are convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance.
Some providers choose not to carry a license because they do not believe in prescribing opioids or sedative medications, and do not want the liability that comes with it. As a locum tenens provider, most sites want you to carry an active license.
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Editor’s Note: This blog was originally written by Sophia Khawly and updated with new information in September 2023.