While your existing drug and alcohol prevention policies and programs may work well, they may not adequately address prescription drug abuse. After all, prescription drug abuse is different because:
- Prescription medications are entirely legal and socially acceptable.
- There are legitimate and highly beneficial uses for prescription medications. You likely have many students who benefit greatly from medications every day – for everything from asthma and allergies, post-surgical pain, and ADHD, to mental health issues.
- Only a relatively few prescription drugs are misused and abused.
- Prescription drugs generally don’t arrive in school through underground criminal networks. It’s mostly casual, via family and friends.
- Parents may contribute to the problem through their own lack of understanding about and control over prescription drugs in the home.
That’s why the prescription drug problem calls for a specific program with coordinated policies.
What is the best strategy to address prescription drug abuse?
Eliminate the supply.
To be sure, prescription drug abuse is a complex issue with far-reaching legal, medical, public health, and sociological elements. There will be no easy fix, no single solution.
However, as a school administrator, you can do a lot to keep your students and your school safe.
The key is to create school policies and procedures that can sharply limit the supply of “diverted” and
shared prescription drugs — to keep them out of the school and out of students’ hands.
Recent research and experience shows that limiting availability is where you can have the greatest and most immediate effect on prescription drug abuse among your student community.
In fact, in areas where policy-makers have strengthened and tightly enforced existing prescription drug regulations, the incidence of abuse has dropped significantly. It simply becomes more and more difficult to divert drugs to friends or others – especially the most commonly abused drugs, including painkillers, stimulants, and depressants.
When prescription drugs aren’t easily available, fewer students will have the opportunity to experiment with diverted prescription drugs, which is precisely how most kids first get into trouble.
How does your school deal with prescription drugs for legitimate medical use in school?
Many states and school jurisdictions already require some type of medication management plan (MMP) to govern the use of prescription medications in school. The idea is to provide some way for students to receive necessary prescription medication during the school day – but with suitable supervision and control. An MMP can also help reduce the school’s liability surrounding the legitimate use of prescription drugs in the school.
The stringency of MMP provisions can vary widely. Some schools may allow teens to carry and take their own prescription medications, with written parental permission and school authorization. Others may also require a physician’s statement. Others may require all prescription medications to be stored with a school nurse or provider, and taken only under direct supervision.
As always, there is a trade-off between control and practicality.
If prescription drug misuse or abuse is increasing at your school, or if there’s already been an incident involving prescription drugs, it may be prudent to amend your MMP. The revised MMP should tighten control on the carrying and administration of prescription medications – or perhaps only certain classes of medications, such as painkillers, stimulants, and depressants, which hold the potential for abuse.
Guidelines for the Administration of Medication in School,
American Academy of Pediatrics
Sample state guidelines, California
How do I avoid casting prescription drugs in a wholly negative light?
No stigmatizing, no demonizing
When talking about prescription drug abuse, it’s critical not to inadvertently cast prescription drugs in a wholly negative light – prescription drugs do have legitimate uses and are immensely helpful when used under medical supervision. It’s also important not to create unnecessary fears about addiction or side effects. Such tactics may be helpful for dealing with illegal “street” drugs like cocaine or heroin — but it’s the wrong message here.
It’s also important to avoid stigmatizing students who benefit from taking prescription medications under a physician’s care. And many millions do – for everything from asthma and allergies, injuries and surgeries, to ADHD.
What’s more, only a relatively few prescription drugs hold the potential for dependence and abuse. There is no need to raise alarms about prescription drugs in general.
The message to staff, parents, and students should be clear and simple:
Taking your own prescription drugs as directed isn’t the problem.
What’s wrong is sharing prescription drugs, taking someone else’s prescription drugs, taking a prescription drug without a prescription, or taking more than the prescribed dose. Those behaviors can be dangerous, illegal, and even deadly.
How does your school deal with students taking prescription drugs not prescribed to them in school?
Some schools have zero tolerance policies (ZTPs) about prescription and illegal “street” drugs, while others do not. Zero tolerance policies order mandatory, preset punishments for violating major school disciplinary rules. Zero tolerance policies stem from the federal Gun-Free Schools Act passed in 1994, which requires that states implement zero tolerance (i.e. expulsion) for students who bring a gun to school. The act allows for modifications on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, when state legislatures and schools drafted their own policies, they expanded zero tolerance to cover other undesirable behaviors such as alcohol and illegal “street” drug use, assault, and possession of other weapons.
The US Department of Education cautions against using the zero tolerance approach for all disciplinary infractions.
- Guiding principles: A resource guide for improving school
A zero tolerance policy? Or not?
When deciding on disciplinary policies, rules, and consequences, understand that issues involving prescription drugs can be quite variable and nuanced.
A zero tolerance policy may be appropriate when it comes to illicit “street” drugs or alcohol, for example, but it may not be workable with prescription drugs.
Consider the following scenarios:
- A student shares his ADD/ADHD prescription medication with friends before the SATs.
- After knee surgery a senior soccer player takes a painkiller during lunch. She has a legitimate prescription, but hasn’t notified the school, or followed the school’s MMP.
- A student with a severe cough carries a few antibiotic pills, given to him by his mother. It is her prescription, not his.
- A student reports to class agitated, breathing rapidly, and flushed. He claims it was too much caffeine. He is not carrying any medications, nor are any found in his locker.
Your rules and penalties should be able to distinguish between situations that are truly dangerous – and/or illegal – and those involving students’ judgment lapses or failure to observe school policies and procedures.
How do you communicate with staff about prescription drug abuse?
Naturally, all school staff will need to fully understand the nature of the prescription drug problem, as well as the school’s new program, which incorporates elements of outreach to parents, school nurses and counselors, and students, plus policies on legitimate medical use of, and disciplinary measures to address violations and abuse of, prescription drugs.
It’s critical that all staff know exactly how to respond to the varied situations that may occur with prescription drugs in school – whether a medical emergency due to prescription drug misuse or abuse, or a violation of policy or procedure.
How do you communicate with parents about prescription drug abuse?
To avoid misunderstandings about prescription drugs at school, you will need to keep parents fully informed about your policies and procedures.
Just as important, you have a chance to remind parents about responsibly handling prescription drugs in the home. That’s where many teens first get access to prescription drugs that are not their own – especially when parents are lax about properly storing prescription drugs, casually share prescription drugs themselves, or keep unused prescription drugs after the health problem for which they were described has resolved.
To prevent problems with abuse of prescription drugs we are instituting:
- New policies for students who may need to take legitimately prescribed medications during the school day.
- Rules and consequences for the possession and/or use of prescription and/or over-the- counter drugs in the school.
The policies are as follows:
[ INSERT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL’S POLICIES]