Ethical and Legal Implications of Prescribing Drugs Among Nurses


Nurses have the responsibility of taking care of patients (Arcangelo & Peterson, 2013). Some of the responsibilities assumed by these practitioners include prescription of drugs. The nurse should conduct a proper diagnosis before providing medication. They should review the medical history of the patient to make an informed decision. In this paper, the author will look at some of the ethical and legal implications of prescribing medications for a friend.


In this hypothetical situation, a friend calls a nurse and asks them to prescribe medication for her. The practitioner can come up with a prescription, but they do not have access to their colleague’s medical history. In spite of this, they go ahead and administer the drugs.

Ethical and Legal Implications of the Scenario on Stakeholders

Nurses can recommend drugs to their patients. However, they should be aware of the legal and ethical issues associated with their actions (Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 2012). A number of stakeholders are involved in the prescription process. They include the prescriber, the pharmacist, the patient, and the client’s family.

The Nurse as a Stakeholder

The nurse should first identify the clinical issue at hand. Even in cases where the professional is carrying out prescription for a friend, it is ethically important for them to ascertain that there exists a medical issue that they will address using the drugs. Legally, the patient and the nurse should only use the drugs to resolve the identified situation. It is also important for the professional to provide guidance on how the client should use the medication to avoid cases of abuse, overdosing, and under dosing. The practitioner should prescribe the appropriate drug after taking into consideration the nature of the medical condition involved.

The Patient

Although the patient is personally known to the nurse, it is unethical for them to dictate the kind of medication they have to receive from the professional (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2006). They should understand that the nurse is held legally responsible for erroneous prescriptions. In addition, the patient should follow the directions given by the prescriber. In this case, the friend in question should disclose her medical history to help the physician come up with the correct prescription (American Nurses Association, 2001).


Legally and ethically, pharmacists have the responsibility of ensuring that drugs are not misused by patients and nurses. They should make sure that the patient receives the prescribed medication as per the specifications of the physician (Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 2012). The government requires the pharmacist to ensure that the drugs in their stores are not harmful to users. The professional should not change the prescription made in this case unless a physician directs so.

The Family

The patient’s family plays an oversight role. Ethically, they must ensure that the information provided by their kin is correct (Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 2012). They should also see to it that the patient follows the prescription instructions. At times, the hospital requires them to sign legal documents indicating that they permit their family member to use the prescribed drugs.

Strategies to Guide Decision Making

One of the strategies that the nurse can use to address their ethical and legal responsibilities entails acting in a professional manner (Philipsen & Soeken, 2011). As such, friends should not influence prescription. It is the responsibility of the nurse to make decisions that safeguard the health of the patient (Byrne, 2011).

Secondly, the nurse can educate the patients. They should make the clients understand the importance of using the medication to improve their health. It is important for the patient to respect the opinion of the physician. In this case, the ‘friend’ should follow the instructions given by the professional nurse (Anderson & Townsend, 2010).


Nurses play an important role in the provision of healthcare, especially by prescribing drugs to patients. It is important for them to act professionally in their undertakings. They should observe ethical standards and act within the confines of the law, even when dealing with friends.


American Nurses Association. (2001). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. Web.

Anderson, P., & Townsend, T. (2010). Medication errors: Don’t let them happen to you. American Nurse Today, 5(3), 23-28. Web.

Arcangelo, V., & Peterson, A. (2013). Pharmacotherapeutics for advanced practice: A practical approach (3rd ed.). Ambler, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Web.

Byrne, W. (2011). US nurse practitioner prescribing law: A state-by-state summary. Web.

Drug Enforcement Administration. (2006.). Practitioner’s manual. Web.

Institute for Safe Medication Practices. (2012). ISMP’s list of error-prone abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations. Web.

Philipsen, N., & Soeken, D. (2011). Preparing to blow the whistle: A survival guide for nurses. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 7(9), 740-746. Web.

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