Legal Considerations: Prescribing Medications for Friends and Family

We’ve all gotten that text – the one where a family member lets you know their child is inconsolable, most certainly suffering from an ear infection. Or, maybe a friend lets you know they have spent the night sleeping on the bathroom floor, gut twisting with food poisoning. As nurse practitioners, the temptation to help out a friend or family member in these situations by calling in a prescription is strong. Surely prescribing an innocent antibiotic or antiemetic for an acquaintance isn’t an issue, right?

Prescribing medications for friends and family is a major grey area in medicine. The practice of prescribing medications in such situations is not specifically prohibited by law in most states although it may be ‘discouraged’. Similar to the way prescribing within the traditional practice setting is governed with a set of regulations, prescribing outside of the practice setting is as well.

Given the complexities of prescribing law, I thought it best to call on a legal expert to help us as nurse practitioners understand the legal considerations of prescribing to friends and family members. Attorney Alex Fisher works with healthcare providers when it comes to licensing and prescribing issues. Last month, she joined me to offer some advice to nurse practitioners prescribing to those closest to them. Here’s a peek at our conversation. 

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Overall, remember that each and every prescription you write must be supported by documentation – even if the medication is prescribed outside of your practice setting. Prescribing controlled substances outside of a bona fide provider-patient relationship is prohibited by federal law, so under most circumstances prescribing these medications to personal contacts is prohibited. Finally, by prescribing a medication for anyone, whether a friend, family member, or stranger on the street, you establish a legally binding provider-patient relationship with that person and can be held liable for consequences of that interaction. 

Do you prescribe medications for friends, family, or coworkers? Why or why not?


Alex Scarbrough Fisher is an associate attorney at Thompson Burton PLLC. Her practice area focuses on litigation and administrative law. Alex’s administrative law practice’s emphasis is in health care related boards, including the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners and the Tennessee Board of Nursing. 


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