Student Well-Being

Children’s Medications Are in Short Supply. Should Schools Be Worried?

By Alyson Klein — December 20, 2022 3 min read
Vector Illustration of an opened prescription bottle with floating pills.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Medications often used with children—including over-the-counter painkillers for those under 12—are in short supply, just as schools are struggling with soaring rates of influenza, respiratory viruses, and COVID-19.

It’s unclear at this point how extensively the problem has trickled down to school nurses’ offices, which sometimes dispense over-the-counter drugs for students, with permission from doctors and parents.

But the National Association of School Nurses suggests its members, as well as district and school leaders, keep a close eye on the situation.

Weathering the shortages may simply be about “being aware, being responsive, collaborating to make sure that the school health office has what it needs to take care of the students,” said Linda Mendonca, the president of the National Association of School Nurses.

Acting on that awareness could happen sooner than expected.

The dearth of painkillers for kids—such as Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin—is so acute that CVS, a national pharmacy chain, has limited sales to two items per customer, a CVS spokeswoman said. Another chain, Walgreens, has taken a similar step, a spokesman said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate the shortages.

If schools run out of the medications, it could impact learning time. A dose of a drug like Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Motrin may allow an elementary schooler with a headache or stomach cramps to return to class and finish the day, Mendonca said.

“We want to try to do everything we can to keep students in school and sitting in their seat in the classroom,” Mendonca said, though she added that nurses can also offer students feeling sick non-medical interventions, such as a hot compress or a chance to lie down.

Even when a student is too sick to stay at school, painkillers can keep them comfortable, and perhaps bring down a fever, while they wait for a parent or caregiver to pick them up, Mendonca added.

So far, Mendonca hasn’t heard many reports of schools running out of over-the-counter children’s pain medication. But that could be because many schools order for the entire year over the summer or just before the start of the school year. The 2022-23 school year isn’t even quite half over, she said, so many schools may still have supply left. Plus, many schools will soon be starting their winter breaks if they haven’t already.

Still, Mendonca cautioned nurses to carefully watch their stock of medications.

“With flu, RSV, COVID, all of these symptoms that students are having, schools certainly could be dispensing it a lot quicker and using more than what they might normally use,” she said. “I think that it’s important to be on top of that, and be monitoring your supply.”

Other drugs in short supply too

Schools, particularly at the elementary level, that are concerned about their supply may want to contact others in the district to see if they are able to share. A middle school, for instance, may not need as many doses of children’s painkillers because many of their students are old enough for adult versions of the drugs, which can often be given to those 12 and older.

It might even make sense, Mendonca said, for some school districts to consider ordering more doses of painkiller drugs sooner than they might otherwise, so that they don’t put themselves in a situation “where you’re without it due to the supply chain issue,” Mendonca said. District and school leaders should just be aware of the shortages in case the school nurse wants to order something outside of the normal cycle.

Over-the-counter painkillers for children aren’t the only drugs in short supply these days.

The FDA lists more than 100 current drug shortages, including albuterol, given to asthma patients, including many kids, and amoxicillin, an antibiotic frequently given to children. There has also reportedly been a shortage of Adderall, a drug used for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that’s commonly prescribed to adults.

Though none of those drugs are used to treat the trio of viruses currently raging in schools, they might be prescribed to a student, brought to school, and given out by a school nurse, with the permission of a child’s doctor, parent, or caregiver, Mendonca said.

Related Tags:

Holly Peele, Library Director contributed to this article.


Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Could a ‘Happiness Class’ Help Ease the Student Mental Health Crisis?
Yale University's popular "happiness class" is now available for high school students and educators.
3 min read
Photo of girl with balloon with happy face.
iStock / Getty Images Plus<br/>
Student Well-Being Millions of Students May Lose Medicaid Coverage. Schools Can Help Them Stay Enrolled
School communications could be critical to keeping millions of children's coverage from lapsing.
4 min read
Image of a stethoscope and notebooks.
Student Well-Being Leader To Learn From A 'Saleslady' Got One District to Prioritize Students' Mental Health
Over the past decade, Andria Amador has reshaped mental health in the Boston school district with a commitment to prevention over reaction.
9 min read
Andria Amador, Senior Director of Behavioral Health Services for Boston Public Schools, holds out a bucket to Veda Peteet, 3, Zara Peteet, 5, and Tom Peteet, 40, while hosting a table at Building Balance, a mental health event at the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass., on Jan. 21, 2023.
Andria Amador, the senior director of behavioral health services for Boston Public Schools, with Veda Peteet, 3, Zara Peteet, 5, and Tom Peteet, 40, during a mental health event at the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass.
Sophie Park for Education Week
Student Well-Being Photo Essay PHOTOS: Mental Health and a Day at the Museum
EdWeek photographer Sophie Park reflects on her day with Andria Amador, a 2023 Leaders To Learn From honoree.
1 min read
Families pass by a table hosted by Andria Amador, Senior Director of Behavioral Health Services for Boston Public Schools, at Building Balance, a mental health event at the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass., on January 21, 2023.
Families walk past a table staffed by Andria Amador, the senior director of behavioral health services at Boston public schools, during Building Balance, a mental health event at the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass.
Sophie Park for Education Week