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Schools: To the Three R’s district adds a fourth – Rx

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County schools have added a fourth “r” to reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic: Rx.

A policy change this year requires a doctor’s approval before school nurses can administer over-the-county medication to students. The district has always required the approval for prescription medication.

“Just because you can buy it without a prescription doesn’t mean they don’t have side effects” said Laura Tucker, the Georgetown County School District’s lead nurse.

The policy change is taking place across the state, with districts receiving guidance from the state School Nurse Consultant, a joint program of the departments of education and health.

The district requires parents to bring medication to the school nurse in its original container. In the past, it only required the parent’s signature to administer over-the-counter medication. Now it will require the physician’s approval along with a description of the condition for which the medication is being used.

“You can’t just bring Tylenol for anything,” Tucker said.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs) are the most common over-the-counter medicines brought by parents. Tucker figured that just under 10 percent of the district’s students have over-the-counter medicines in the nurses’ offices.

The policy will improve safety for those students by ensuring that their physicians know what medicines they are taking, Tucker said. She has spoken with area doctors and their office managers about the change. “Their response has been, ‘It really does make sense when you think about it,’ ” she said.

The permission form is available on the district’s website, gcsd.k12.sc.us, along with an explanation of the policy.

“The premise of it is a good idea,” said Dr. Michelle Steffen, a pediatrician at Georgetown Pediatrics and mother of two students at Coastal Montessori Charter School. “Over-the-counter medications are considered by many people to be benign, but some can be dangerous for children with certain conditions.”

The policy will create additional administrative work for medical practices and school nurses. Steffen said it will require doctors and parents to anticipate the need for permission forms. “The most common times for over-the-counter medications would be if they already have a known condition,” such as a headache, she said.

Steffen suggested that physicians can fill out the permission for something such as ibuprofen noting its use “for pain,” and that could be kept on file with the school during the year.

“I think it’s manageable,” Steffen said. “Some will think it’s inconvenient, but it’s reasonable.”

Tucker, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing, is the nurse at the Howard Adult Center and Optional School. She has been with the district 10 years.

“We are discovering that more and more children are allergic to things that may or may not be known or have unknown health conditions that have not been diagnosed,” she said.

Aside from student safety, Tucker hopes the policy change will make more parents aware of the possible effects of over-the-counter medicines. For instance, some antacids shouldn’t be taken by people with certain gastrointestinal conditions. Topical antibiotics, if not used according to instructions, can actually make bacteria stronger, she explained.

That’s a goal Steffen agrees with. Georgetown Pediatrics recommends against over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, which have no proven benefits. They suggest lemon and honey as an alternative.

“People just don’t realize,” Tucker said. “This is what science is teaching us. You’ve got to move with the science.”

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