Prescribing Controlled Substances: The Course for NPs & PAs

Protect your license, prescribe appropriately

Prescribing controlled substances as nurse practitioners and physician assistants is challenging. Medications for treatment of pain and anxiety, to name a few, are often the key to helping patients find the much needed relief they deserve. However, given the addictive nature of most controlled substances, these drugs are widely sought after and highly regulated. At times, prescribing controlled substances can feel like a morally or professionally compromising situation.

Governing bodies heavily monitor and regulate the prescribing of controlled substances. This data is made available to regulatory bodies and even the general public. Last year, for example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released data regarding the prescribing practices of individual healthcare providers, nurse practitioners and physician assistants included.

Increased attention to and monitoring of controlled substance prescribing carries significant implications for NPs and PAs. Providers prescribing a large number of these drugs, even if for legitimate purposes, may fall under scrutiny. Minor mistakes in prescribing and documentation can lead to disciplinary action on part of the NP or PA.

Many states require that healthcare providers participate in continuing education specifically addressing the prescribing of controlled substances. In states where controlled substance CME is not a requirement, nurse practitioners and physicians are wise to seek out education about prescribing practices.

The Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health (VCPH) recognizes the need for increased education regarding the prescribing of controlled substances and has developed a course specifically designed for advanced practice providers, Prescribing Controlled Drugs: Critical Issues and Common Pitfalls for Advanced Practice Nurses. Since 1988, the VCPH has educated physicians about prescribing practices and is now delivering their longstanding wealth of knowledge in a nurse practitioner specific forum. Course content includes the following: 

  • Strategies for following proper prescribing practices of controlled substances in your practice
  • Information on your state’s prescription drug monitoring program
  • Strategies for identifying substance abuse disorders using SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) in your practice
  • Strategies to avoid risky prescribing of controlled substances
  • Approaches to identifying and managing the drug-seeking patient
  • Identify and address personal vulnerabilities

Are you interested in learning more about prescribing controlled substances and how you can protect your license? The fall 2016 course date is:

  • September 28-30, 2016

Last year, I personally had the opportunity to attend a portion of the physician directed conference on which the advanced practice curriculum is based. I was surprised by how much I learned and felt empowered in my decision making when it comes to protecting my professional license while delivering appropriate and effective patient care.

As you consider how to spend your continuing medical education stipend in 2016, keep the Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health’s Prescribing Controlled Drugs: Critical Issues and Common Pitfalls for Advanced Practice Nurses in mind. 


The Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health provides training to healthcare professionals to promote professionalism and professional health and wellness. The center offers courses throughout the year for physicians and nurse practitioners interested in learning more about maintaining appropriate practice boundaries and prescribing controlled substances. Information on upcoming courses can be found on the Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health website.



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