Can Registered Nurses Prescribe Medications? An Explanatory Article For Medical Practioners

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As a nursing license lawyer, my practice is mainly centered on representing nurses in California who are wrongly accused of misconduct. We at Nursing License Defense Group have as our sole purpose advocacy for and defense of nurses before the California BRN (Board of Registered Nursing), including guiding them through administrative hearings and appeals. One of the most common questions we get asked is: Can registered nurses prescribe medications? In particular, this post aims to address this issue for those California nurses who may be in danger of losing their licenses as well as their careers. This topic will be dealt with extensively to help you know your rights and duties.

Nurses and Prescriptive Authority

Knowledge of the roles and responsibilities within the practice domain is important, especially concerning prescriptive authority requirements for nurses. In general terms, Registered Nurses (RNs) in California do not have prescribing privileges. They dispense medicines prescribed by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner, while their main function is to care for patients under their custody.

However, this situation significantly changes when considering Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) such as Nurse Practitioners (NPs). APRNs sometimes have expanded roles that may include prescriptive authority requirements based on whether they satisfy specific qualifications and follow regulatory guidelines.

Types of Prescriptive Authority

In California, nurse practitioners (NPs) have the power to prescribe medicines, including controlled substances, under certain circumstances. This authority is granted after meeting high-level educational and certification standards and often working in collaborative practice with a physician or within a particular scope of practice regulations.

The Different Levels of Prescriptive Authority

The ability of nurse practitioners to prescribe medication varies depending on their training levels, certificates obtained, and regulatory framework. For instance, nurses in California must obtain a furnishing number from the BRN that allows them to furnish or order drugs and devices. The working agreement with a supervising physician ensures that the NP stays within the agreed limits of practice.

Pharmacy Prior Authorization

Prescriptive authority is a very important topic that also includes prior authorization. It’s a process that requires the backing of a patient’s health insurance provider before some drugs can be dispensed. This process must be known by nurse practitioners, as it affects their ability to issue prescriptions effectively and within time with prior prescription authorization.

Midications in California

Requirements for Prescriptive Authority

There are several prerequisites that must be met in order to obtain and maintain the right to prescribe medications:

  • Educational requirements: The nurse practitioner should have completed a postgraduate or doctorate program in nursing.
  • Certification: must have been certified with any recognized national body.
  • Licensure: having an active license as a registered nurse in California.
  • Furnishing Number: To prescribe medications, NPs are required to get a furnishing number from the California BRN.
  • DEA Registration: Those NPs who want to prescribe controlled drugs or substances need to register with DEA.

To continue possessing prescriptive authority requirements, one has to keep up with continuing education as well as changes in regulatory policy regarding nurses’ prescribing practices.

Detailed Analysis of Medications

Nurses with prescriptive authority can recommend various types of medicines, including antibiotics, which are usually prescribed, while narcotics are strictly controlled substances. It is very important to have knowledge about what class they belong to, potential drug interactions, possible side effects, and other rules governing the prescription.

Drug Categories:

  • Non-Controlled Substances: Some of these examples include antihypertensives, antibiotics, etc.
  • Controlled Substances: These would include things like benzodiazepines, opioids, and others that tend to be misused more often.

Drug Interactions and Side Effects:

  • Interactions: Always keep in mind that your patient may already have been taking another medicine that could interact with this one.
  • Side Effects: Also, make sure you educate your patients on how to manage the side effects when they appear.

Safe Prescribing Guidelines:

  • Assessment: Perform a complete patient assessment before writing a prescription.
  • Documentation: Accurate documentation of all prescriptions must be maintained
  • Follow-up: Set up follow-up appointments to measure the effectiveness of the medication.

Advanced Practice Registered nurses, which include nurse practitioners with prescriptive authority, are authorized to prescribe a wide range of medications. Medication has antibiotics that treat infections, antihypertensives that manage high blood pressure, antidiabetics for diabetes management, and analgesics, including non-opioid and opioid pain relievers. Advanced practice registered nurses use their prescriptive authority in managing with adherence to legal, ethical, and regulatory authority to exercise professional judgment for the optimal benefit of their patients, including the potential for prescribing medications. 

Nurse is talking with patient about medication

Types of Medications Prescribed by Nurses

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) with prescriptive authority can write prescriptions for a broad spectrum of drugs. The precise range may change based on the APRN’s specialty and the particular state laws. The following list of drug categories includes all that APRNs, APRNs including Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthe(CRNAs), CRNAs) are usually allowed to prescribe:

  • Medications Used in Primary Care. In primary care settings, APRNs frequently write prescriptions for several acute and chronic illnesses, such as:
  • Antibiotics: Ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, and amoxicillin
  • Antivirals: Acyclovir, oseltamivir
  • Antifungals: Fluconazole, terbinafine
  • Antihypertensives: Lisinopril, metoprolol, and amlodipine
  • Diabetes Medications: Metformin, insulin, and Glipizide
  • Hyperlipidemia Medications: Atorvastatin, simvastatin
  • Asthma and COPD Medications: Albuterol, tiotropium, and Fluticasone
  • Pain Management: Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and Naproxen
  • Medications for Mental Health. In psychiatric-mental health, APRNs can write prescriptions for:
  • Antidepressants: SSRIs (e.g., fluoxetine, sertraline), SNRIs (e.g., venlafaxine, duloxetine)
  • Anxiolytics: Benzodiazepines (e.g., lorazepam, clonazepam), buspirone
  • Antipsychotics: Atypical antipsychotics (e.g., risperidone, olanzapine), typical antipsychotics (e.g., haloperidol)
  • Mood Stabilizers: Lithium, valproate
  • ADHD Medications: Stimulants (e.g., methylphenidate, amphetamine salts), non-stimulants (e.g., atomoxetine)
  • Medications for Women’s Health. In women’s health, APRNs, including CNMs, often write prescriptions for:
  • Contraceptives: Oral contraceptives, hormonal implants, and IUDs
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy: Estrogen, progesterone
  • Medications for Pregnancy and Postpartum Care: Prenatal vitamins, medications for gestational diabetes, medications for postpartum depression
  • Antibiotics for Gynecological Infections: Metronidazole, doxycycline
  • Pediatric APRNs may prescribe:
  • Vaccinations: Routine childhood immunizations
  • Antibiotics for Common Pediatric Infections: Amoxicillin, azithromycin
  • Asthma Medications: Albuterol, montelukast
  • ADHD Medications: Stimulants (e.g., methylphenidate), non-stimulants (e.g., guanfacine)
  • Geriatric Medications. APRNs in geriatric care often manage:
  • Medications for Chronic Diseases: Antihypertensives, anticoagulants (e.g., warfarin), diabetes medications
  • Cognitive Disorders: Donepezil, memantine
  • Pain Management: Acetaminophen, certain opioids with caution
  • Emergency and Critical Care Medications. APRNs in emergency or critical care settings can prescribe:
  • Emergency Medications: Epinephrine, naloxone, and atropine
  • Sedatives and Anesthetics: Midazolam, propofol (primarily by CRNAs)
  • Vasopressors: Dopamine, norepinephrine
  • Anticoagulants: Heparin, enoxaparin
  • Specialized Medications. State laws and training permit APRNs to also prescribe specialty drugs, including:
  • Oncology Medications. Chemotherapy agents (often in collaboration with oncologists), antiemetics
  • HIV/AIDS Medications: Antiretrovirals
  • Rheumatology Medications. DMARDs (e.g., methotrexate), biologics (e.g., adalimumab)
  • Controlled Substances. Prescriptions for prohibited drugs can be written by APRNs holding the proper DEA registration.
  • Schedule II Drugs. Adderall and Ritalin, among other ADHD drugs; oxycodone, and morphine.
  • Medications Schedule III-V Some anxiolytics (like diazepam) and painkillers (such as hydrocodone and acetaminophen)

Medication restrictions

Restrictions and Limitations

  • Educational Requirements:

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse practitioners (NPs), have to finish a master’s or doctoral program in nursing.


To be certified, APRNs must be certified by a national certifying body recognized in their specialty.

  • Licensing requirements

Active License:

In California, APRNs are required to have an active Registered Nurse (RN) license.

Advanced Practice License:

Apart from having an RN license, APRNs are also required to possess an advanced practice license specific to their role, such as a Nurse Practitioner license.

  • Number of Furnishings

The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) requires that APRNs obtain the furnishing number for prescribing medications.


This furnishing number allows APRNs to furnish or order drugs and devices within their scope of practice.

  • DEA Registration

Controlled Substances:

For APRNs to have permission to prescribe controlled substances, they must be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Schedule Limitations:

DEA regulations and state laws limit the schedules on which APNRs can prescribe controlled substances.

  • Collaborative Practice Agreement (CPA)

Oftentimes, a collaborative practice agreement  with a supervising physician has to be approved by these professionals 

  • Scope of Practice

CPA outlines the scope of practice, including prescriptive authority and specific conditions under which the NP can prescribe.

The agreement will typically also include provisions for physician oversight and consultation.

Scope of Practice in State Regulations: California state regulations define the specific conditions and limits under which NPs can prescribe medications. Specific medications, especially controlled substances, may have more restrictions on prescribing

  • Prior Authorization

Insurance Approval: Some medications require prior authorization from the patient’s health insurance provider prior to dispensing

Role of NP: The NP will be navigating prior authorization each time to ensure medications are approved and dispensed in a timely manner.

  • Continuing Education

APRNs are to engage in continuing education to stay abreast of current pharmacological knowledge, medical practices, and regulatory changes and guidelines.

Regulatory Compliance:

The purpose of continuing education is to ensure APRNs remain compliant with any prescriptive authority laws and enhance their practice.

  • Safe Prescription Practices

Assessment: Before prescribing, APRNs need to assess their patient thoroughly.

Documentation: APRNs are mandated to document all prescriptions accurately and thoroughly.

Follow-Up: APRNs should schedule follow-up appointments to assess the medication’s effectiveness and safety.

  • Regulatory Bodies

California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN): This is the main nursing practice and prescriptive authority regulatory body in California.

DEA: The Drug Enforcement Administration is in charge when it comes to the prescription of controlled substances by APRNs.

Both state and federal laws: APRNs must observe state-level laws and federal statutes with regard to their prescriptive authority as well as dispensing medications. 

  • Legal and Ethical Considerations

Ethical Implication: The ethical implications of APRNs’ prescriptive practice relate to patient safety, which necessitates observance of ethical guidelines.

Legal Representation: It may be useful for APRNs to consult a nurse attorney if any legal issues arise concerning their ability to prescribe medication.

Medication Rights Nursing

The Nurse Practice Act, the Business and Professions Code, the BRN, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration control the medication rights of nursing. State medical and healthcare licensing boards have noted that there is a high risk of misuse, abuse, and overdose of opioids. Opioids should be checked with CURES, and opioid agreements are commonly utilized to achieve both patient and provider agreement. Monitoring includes follow-up appointments, refills, prescription effectiveness, and drug-drug interactions, which help control the prescription of medications and enforce medication regulation.

Regulations And Legal Framework

To ensure that nursing practice is carried out safely and legally, some bodies and laws govern the prescriptive authority of nurses, including: 

  • California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN): This is the primary regulatory body for nursing practice in California
  • California Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Regulates the prescribing of controlled substances
  • Collaborative Practice Agreements: A collaborative practice agreement (CPA) is a written agreement between one or more physicians and one or more nurse practitioners. CPAs are often required by doctors as part of the practice agreement that nurse practitioners are responsible for physician oversight. 

Knowing these regulatory bodies will help nurses understand a more comprehensive legal landscape and maintain compliance. 

Nursing authority to prescribe medications is always evolving, influenced by changes in legislation and advancements in health care practice. California, in recent legislative changes, has made significant moves to expand the ability of nurse practitioners to prescribe, with the aim of improving access to care, particularly in underserved areas. 

New Laws: New legislation has been passed allowing full practice authority, meaning NPs may also operate entirely without physician oversight. 

Nurses in hospital

Recent Changes and Future Trends

Potential things in the future include further practice settings for APRNs and greater emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration. 

By being aware of these changes, nurses can keep up with the dynamic regulatory environment, adapting to changes in a way that maintains quality patient care, legal challenges, and resources for nurses. 

Legal Support for Nurses Accused of Incorrect Medication Prescription

The idea of facing a legal challenge based on a drug’s use case can be overwhelming. However, there are steps and resources that nurses can access to help you in these situations. If you do face a situation like this, please reach out to experienced nurse licensure attorneys who work largely defending nurses. 

Below are some things to keep in mind if facing any circumstances: 

Understanding the Process: What is the administrative hearing process? How do I file an appeal of a decision? 

Gathering Documentation: Draft and organize a collection of all relevant documents and any paperwork that is relevant, such as medical records and communication logs 

Legal Representation: What time is my hearing? What criteria do I have to meet to prove my case? These are questions that a Nursing License Lawyer will be able to help you answer about your case At Nursing License Defense Group, we are dedicated to assisting nurse professionals cope with these difficulties and making sure they receive the support and protection they have a right to. If you are confronted with claims or legal problems pertaining to the authority to prescribe, you should not hesitate to reach out to us for professional legal aid. 


The question of whether registered nurses can prescribe medications involves understanding multiple roles, levels of authority, educational qualifications, and regulatory requirements. 

Generally, registered nurses in California do not have prescriptive authority, but nurse practitioners and other Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) have nurse practitioner prescriptive authority if they meet specific requirements. To navigate this complex landscape, understanding the legislative scheme, safe prescribing, and evolving legislation is important. Nurses who are confronted with legal issues or have questions about their prescriptive authority should seek guidance and support from a nurse lawyer who is experienced in nursing license defense. 

At the Nursing License Defense Group, we are dedicated to advocating for you, your rights, and your practice. 

Contact us today to discuss your circumstances and get the expert representation and assistance you deserve.

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Awards & Recognitions
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