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Background: Medication Administration

Administering medicine to children and adolescents at school is an inescapable reality for contemporary educators. With medications being used to treat conditions ranging from diabetes to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), school officials must be prepared to administer many types of medicines to ensure that students stay healthy. As a result, states have enacted laws and school districts have written policies outlining how school officials can safely provide students' required medications throughout the day.

Bringing Medications to School

School children may need to bring medications to school for numerous reasons. Some have lifelong conditions requiring regular daily treatment, such as diabetes and seizures. Others have conditions that disrupt their daily lives and activities, such as ADHD and anxiety. Still more may need to bring medications to protect against sudden flare-ups of dormant conditions, such as asthma. Finally, students may need medications such as pain relievers and antibiotics to relieve temporary injuries or ailments.

Some of the medications that students may need to take are regulated by the state or federal governments due to their potential for abuse. Pain killers and drugs used to treat ADHD, such as Adderall, are often abused for their powerful effects. To combat the risk of abuse or accidental overdose with these drugs, many states require school officials to store such medicines and only provide single doses to the student as needed.

Depending on the child's age and the type of medication, however, many states allow the students to keep the medication and take it as directed. Some states require students to keep medication on their person, rather than in a backpack or locker. Other states may require the medication to always be stored in its original packaging with all of the labeling and warnings intact.

School Processes for Administering Medications

All states have some process for allowing school officials to administer medication. Some states, however, still limit which school officials may control medication dosing, with some requiring state-licensed nurses to do it. When the nurse is not available, parents are often forced to leave work and come to the school to provide their child with the proper medication. As a result, many states now allow for non-licensed school officials to provide medication, although these staff members must be trained in proper medication administration.

To ensure that medications are administered properly, most states have drafted guidelines. These guidelines vary by state, but they generally abide by the following process:

  • First, the child's physician prescribes the medication to treat the child's condition. Most states do not allow a school to administer prescription medication without a valid prescription signed by a licensed physician.
  • Once the child has been prescribed the medication, the child's parent usually must meet with school officials to sign a consent form and give the officials instructions on how to properly administer the medication. Some states require the child's physician to also sign off on the administration plan.
  • The school usually stores the medication and administers it one dose at a time as directed.
  • In emergency situations, school officials may administer life-saving or injury-prevention medications, sometimes under the advisement of a medical professional.

When the medication requires special training to be administered, such as insulin taken by injection, school officials must be trained in using the prescribed equipment and administering the prescribed drug before doing so.

Some states may also require school officials to provide parents with updates about how administering the medication affects their child, especially if it interferes with the child's learning process.

School Officials' Liability for Administering Medications

Many states have passed laws similar to "good Samaritan" laws that limit the liability of school officials administering medications. School officials in these states cannot be held legally liable for the consequences of administering medications in good faith. Some states only apply the protection of these statutes to school officials if certain conditions are met, such as the school official acting under the advice of a medical professional.

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