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Schools' Authority on Dispensing Medication

Federal law mandates that children with health needs receive school health services, but it does not specifically address the dispensing of medication at the individual school level. Administering medicine entails physically providing it to the ultimate user, the patient.

Federal laws and regulations that do not expressly address, but, nonetheless impact, the administration of medication within schools deal mostly with controlled substances. They include:

The above federal references identify and define those substances included as "controlled substances" (any drug as defined in the five categories of the Acts). They include all opiates and their derivatives, hallucinogenic substances, anabolic steroids, and several psychotropic substances. Within school settings, most drugs used to treat ADHD are controlled substances, as is Ritalin. Controlled substances generally fall under the purview of local drug enforcement agencies, which derive their ultimate authority from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

But students who need medications administered to them during the school day already have legal possession (or their parents do) of any controlled substances. The school's role is therefore limited to ensuring safe custody, storage, and administering of the medication, once a valid authorization is received from parents/physician.

Authority at the State and Local Level

Most states have enacted statutes that delegate to school systems and school boards the authority to implement local policies addressing the dispensing of medication school premises. Those regulations and policies, however, must also comply and coordinate with state laws concerning the "unauthorized practice of medicine" or "unauthorized practice of nursing."

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