Students soon will have to pack up their swimsuits and beach balls and grab their pencils, notepads and erasers to get ready for school.
Some also will have to get all their medications ready.
Less than 5 percent of students in the Brainerd School District will have to get their Ritalin and similar prescription drugs to the school nurses so they can continue to take the drug. No students are allowed to take a prescription drug at school unless it is distributed by a trained staff member.
Ritalin and similar prescription drugs, such as Conserta, Adderall and Metadate, are used mainly to treat children and a small amount of adults with attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy.
Use of the drug has been soaring in Minnesota children and has prompted new rules and a study that will give state officials a better grasp on the issue. Children in the state consumed 3,941 grams of Ritalin in 1999, the ninth-highest per capita consumption in the nation, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Nationally, nearly 20 million prescriptions of Ritalin and other similar stimulants were written.
The new provision put into law recently clarifies that parents -- not school districts -- make the ultimate decisions on whether they want their children to take medication.
This new provision, however, does not impact the school nurses in Brainerd. Linda Hamilton, school nurse, said there is no question that the parent is the one who has the right to have their child take the prescription. The schools can make a recommendation to parents, but in order for the student to take the drug the nurses need a parent's consent.
In order for nurses to give Ritalin or any prescription drug to a child, they need a doctor's order and the prescription bottle itself-- not just a few pills -- that has to be delivered to them by the parents, not the child.
In the 1999-2000 school year, 4 percent of the students in kindergarten through ninth-grade took Ritalin or a similar generic drug. Only 1 percent of the students in 10th- through 12th-grade have prescriptions. A majority of the patients on Ritalin are in second- through fifth-grade, with an occasional child in preschool.
Hamilton said the number of students on Ritalin has dropped this past year. At one elementary building in Brainerd there were between 20-25 students on attention deficit medication and now that number is down to 13 students with the population staying the same, said the school nurse.
Hamilton has not seen any abuse of the drug so far. She said students who are on the drug don't want to take the drug in the first place.
Hamilton said she can see abuse occur if a student has the prescription in their hand and flashes it to other students while riding the school bus and the prescription gets into the hands of other students.
Mary Lastovich, another school nurse, said they closely monitor the prescriptions since it is a controlled substance. The prescriptions are locked up for safety.
The drugs have helped students pay attention in the classroom and they have been earning better grades, officials said.
"We see miracles with students who go from "D" to "B" students in a matter of days," said Dr. Michael Severson, pediatrician at Brainerd Medical Center, who treats two to three attention deficit children a day.
Severson said it is becoming easier to diagnose attention deficit disorders today because of increased awareness. He said years ago schools and parents used corporal punishment for students who acted out in class and it was OK for students to get a "D" on their report cards.
"Now there are higher expectations on kids," said Severson. "And these expectations can be met by paying attention and doing homework."
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