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Schools' Authority on Dispensing Medication

Schools are not just places of learning. They're also environments where the health and well-being of every student are paramount. Students have a wide range of medical needs. This can range from taking prescribed medication and counter medication to dietary supplements. Schools must prepare to address the unique care needs of students.

Staff members often receive training to ensure competency in this area. They must understand medication orders and interventions. They also understand the self-administration of medication. Staff members are also aware of which students are allowed to carry medications. Alongside routine measures like immunization, schools offer medical services. They help ensure that students receive comprehensive care. This helps meet students' medication needs during school days.

The following information will highlight key factors surrounding schools' authority on medication.

Understanding Prescription and Nonprescription Medications

Every school year, many students need to take medications during school hours. A health care provider, like a physician assistant or doctor, gives prescription medication. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication is also called nonprescription medication. This is medication you can buy without a prescription. Regardless of the type of medication, schools have guidelines. These guidelines outline how schools handle medicines.

The Role of the School Nurse and Other School Personnel

The school nurse is often a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. These nurses are in charge of giving students their medication. Other school personnel might help if the school nurse is not available. School employees are trained to know the administration process. They also should know the possible effects and any emergency care that might be needed. The health office is where students typically go to get their medication. Sometimes, students can self-administer medication with the right permission.

Emergency Medication and Safety Measures

In some cases, students might have a medical condition that needs quick action. There may be life-threatening situations that need immediate action. For example, someone might have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. In these cases, students may need epinephrine auto-injectors or inhalers. Some students may also need glucagon for certain health conditions. School staff must know how to use these in a medical emergency to keep students safe.

School Activities and Medication Needs

Field trips and after-school activities are part of the education program. But what happens with a student's medication needs during these times? School district policies ensure students can take their medication even during school-sponsored activities. They will create a care plan for the student. The school might ask the student's parents to join the trip. Or, a designee (like a school administrator) who knows about the student's health might go.

Keeping Track of Medication Information

Schools need to keep health information for every student. The health record will include things like the student's name and the medication they take. It will also include the time of administration and any side effects.

All medication needs to be in its original packaging. This is true whether a prescribed, controlled substance or OTC. All medication should come in its original, labeled container. Preserving the original container reduces any confusion or fraud. A written order from the health care professional who's prescribing is also needed. This helps avoid medication errors.

What happens at the end of the school year? What happens to the student's medication left on-site when the school year wraps up? Parents or guardians are often asked to take it back. If they don't, the school might dispose of such medication safely. They will follow guidelines from organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Rights, Rules, and Regulations

Public schools work with the state Board of Education. They also work with the Department of Education and the Department of Health. They work with these organizations to prepare medication policies. These rules follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They also follow public health guidelines. They help ensure all students are safe and healthy. This includes students in special education or with an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

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

The following federal laws and regulations do not expressly address the administration of medication in schools. Still, they impact the administration of medication within schools. They deal mostly with controlled substances. They include:

  • The Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 801
  • The Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1994, 21 U.S.C. 802
  • Title 21 (Food and Drugs) of the Code of Federal Regulations. Chapter II (Drug Enforcement Administration, Section 1300 (21 CFR 1300.01 et seq.)

The above federal references identify and define those substances included as "controlled substances." This is any drug as defined in the five categories of the acts. They include all opiates and their derivatives. It also includes hallucinogenic substances, anabolic steroids, and several psychotropic substances.

Within school settings, most drugs used to treat ADHD are controlled substances. Controlled substances generally fall under the purview of local drug enforcement agencies. They derive their ultimate authority from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Some students need medications administered to them during the school day. These students already have legal possession of any controlled substances. The school's role is limited to ensuring safe custody and storage. It also covers administering the medication. Valid authorization from the child's parent/guardian and physicians is usually required.

Authority at the State and Local Level

Most states have enacted statutes. These statutes delegate authority to school systems and school boards. This authority allows them to create local policies. These policies include provisions addressing the dispensing of medication on school premises. Those regulations and policies must also comply and coordinate with state laws. These state laws usually concern the unauthorized practice of medicine. Or they include the unauthorized practice of nursing.

Seeking Legal Help for Medication Problems

If you ever have a legal problem with school medication rules, it might be time to seek legal help. Lawyers with substantial experience in education or public health law can provide helpful guidance. They can help ensure that student well-being is at the forefront.

Speak to an experienced education law attorney about your legal issue today.

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