Does Use of Over-the-Counter Meds Provide Grounds for Searching a Student?

Over-the-counter medications (OTC) offer quick, cheap, and convenient relief when you get the sniffles, need a caffeine pick-me-up, or are feeling achy. They get their name because they are available without a prescription from a doctor. The FDA has found OTCs to be safe and effective for use by consumers without the need to take them under supervision of a health care professional.

Still, OTC drugs are regulated by the FDA and local governments. Many have a high potential of abuse in significant quantities, and studies have shown that abuse can lead to use of dangerous controlled substances. ConsumerMedSafety.org reveals that teens and young adults in particular abuse OTC meds and herbals in violation of these regulations. In light of these issues and their duty to maintain a safe school environment, some schools resort to searching students for evidence of unlawful conduct or school policy.

Such a search would seem invasive in most situations. OTC meds are legal, and it seems far-fetched to think someone is engaging in unlawful conduct just for taking them, but schools have the ability to set their own district wide policies which can justify a search of a student by school personnel. There are many complicated issues at stake when it comes to the school setting, however, and an Illinois criminal defense attorney can explain in more detail. An overview may also be useful.

Permissibility of Student Searches

The issue of searching students regarding OTC medicines starts with a look at how searches work in the school context. Unless there is a warrant supported by probable cause, Section 6 of the Illinois Constitution’s Bill of Rights prohibits public officials from searching a person, home, and other designated places. The key issue for searches in general is whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A different standard applies for searching students on school grounds. By statute, the Illinois General Assembly has determined that students have no reasonable expectation of privacy in such areas as:

  • Lockers;
  • Desks;
  • Parking lots and garages; and,
  • Other school property owned, maintained, or controlled.

In addition, the law applies to the personal effects within in these areas, so backpacks, purses, jacket pockets, and related containers are subject to search. School officials do not need to provide notice or obtain the student’s consent, and they are not required to first obtain a warrant supported by probable cause.

Student Searches Related to Use of OTC Medications

Though the statutory language seems to provide school officials with immense power to search, students do have rights. The “reasonable suspicion” standard applies, which means that officials can conduct a search if they suspect that the student has or is violating the law.

School officials have the power to “maintain order and security in the schools” under Illinois law. If there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a student is violating school policies or state statutes, they can conduct a search. Examples might be:

  • Students who having an extremely large quantity, such as what could be used to get high;
  • Students exchanging money for OTC drugs; or,
  • Students using meds for purposes other than what is listed on the label.

Set up a Consultation with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Illinois

Even OTC meds can give grounds for a search under certain circumstances, so it is important to understand your rights. For more information, please contact at Glasgow & Olsson to set up a consultation. You can reach our office by phone or checking out our website.

(image courtesy of Amanda Jones)

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