Thousands of elementary and high school students require regular dosages of medications to treat serious conditions and help them function throughout the day. Many of these children are so familiar with taking their prescribed medications that they know by heart the proper dosage and the proper times to take each dose. In a school setting, however, worries over improper dosage, lost or stolen medications, and prescription drug abuse have prompted states to enact restrictions on self-administration of medication at school.
The Law and Self-Administration of Medication
Federal law does not require or regulate self-administration of medication by school children. Although laws such as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act require reasonable accommodations for individual students with medical conditions, neither law explicitly dictates when or how students can self-administer medicine. As a result, laws governing self-administration are left to the states.
In addition to varying by state, self-administration laws may even vary by school district. Many states provide basic guidelines, such as allowing students with asthma to carry inhalers, but otherwise allow individual school districts to determine when and how the state policy is implemented. Some school districts might have strict policies regarding which students may administer their own medications, while others may simply require parental consent for certain medicines. Still others require close supervision of self-administration, which may include school officials storing the medication until needed, or developing medical plans with the student and the student's physician.
Asthma and Emergency Allergic Reaction Medication
All states have now passed laws addressing student use of asthma and allergy medication. Asthma, which can cause life-threatening breathing problems, often requires immediate medication, almost always in the form of an inhaler that delivers medicine directly to the lungs. Every state has adopted a policy allowing students to carry inhalers and use them when needed. Most states require the parents to submit a form verifying the child's asthma-related condition and the need for an inhaler, and some states require a school official to supervise students using such devices.
Severe allergic reactions similarly require immediate medication to prevent a life-threatening situation. When exposed to allergens, children may go into anaphylactic shock, causing obstructed breathing and lowered blood pressure. As with asthma inhalers, many states have passed laws allowing students with documented severe allergies to carry epinephrine needles. These laws, however, are generally stricter than laws relating to asthma inhalers. Many states require school officials to store the medication but allow trained students to self-administer epinephrine when it is needed.
Some states leave it up to individual school districts to determine whether an individual child may carry and self-administer his or her own medications other than asthma and allergy remedies, usually based on the child's age and maturity, a physician's recommendations, and the wishes of the child's parents. These additional medications can range from drugs to treat mental or psychological conditions to over-the-counter pain killers. A handful of states, including Massachusetts, California, and Minnesota, have explicit laws allowing schools to evaluate and approve on a case-by-case basis the self-administration of nearly any medication.
Some states allow exceptions to self-administration restrictions in emergency situations, such as cases of severe asthma attacks or allergic reactions. Some strict school policies, however, have led to school officials refusing to allow children to self-administer medications, especially in cases where the child's medication condition was not properly documented with school administrators. Parents of children with special medical needs should always follow the school district's procedures and notify school officials of any necessary precautions in order to ensure that their children get the medical attention they need.