Leftover Medications at the End of the School Year

by Howard Gerber on July 20, 2010

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One of the primary roles of a school nurse is to dispense medications that have been brought in by parents. A doctor may prescribe medications for conditions such as asthma, allergies, migraines, infection, or pain. Over the counter medications may also be brought in for students by their parents, such as a pain relievers, antihistamines, or eye drops.  All of these medications are kept in a secure location and accessible only by a nurse or other school official. At the end of the school year, some medications will be left over. Several steps need to be taken by the school nurse in order to dispose of the medications prior to leaving for the summer.

First, a deadline for picking up the medications needs to be determined. Usually, the deadline is set for the last day of school for students, but occasionally the deadline is extended to the last day of school for teachers in order to give the parents more time to stop by and pick up the medications. Then the nurse will attempt to contact the parent either with a note sent home with the student, a letter to the house, or a phone call. All three methods may be attempted if contact cannot easily be made. If the parents come in to the school, the nurse hands the medication over to them and her job of disposal is finished.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that parents are too busy to come in, especially if the child is no longer taking the medication. If this happens, the nurse should follow the FDA guidelines for drug disposal. By reading the patient information or drug label, the nurse would discern if there were any specific drug disposal instructions and follow any that were given. If there are no specific disposal indications, the medications should be removed from their original container and mixed with ground coffee or other undesirable materials, then put into a sealable can or bag and placed into the trash. The community may have a drug take back program that can also be utilized.

Regardless of whether the medications are over the counter or prescribed, they should be disposed of at the end of the school year. Removing them from the school ensures that no summer students might accidentally find and ingest them. Since no student can be given medications other than those brought in by his or her parents, there is no reason to save them for the following year.

The methods listed above are general guidelines. Each school district will usually have a policy for the disposal of medication, which is heavily influenced by state policy. How does your school dispose of medications at the end of the year, and how was the policy created?

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