What is a Route of Administration?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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In medical circles, a route of administration is the means by which a drug is introduced into the body. The term is applied to any type of prescription medication, over the counter drug, or illegal substance that is brought into contact with the body. Many health professionals also refer include the introduction of poisons into the body in some manner as using one or more routes of administration.

For the most part, a particular route of administration is classified into one of three different categories. With a topical route, the drug is introduced directly on the surface of the skin. Using this approach, the medication is absorbed through the skin and into the body, where it has the chance to promote healing. The use of various types of topical creams and ointments would fall into this particular classification.

A second approach is known as an enteral route of administration. Enteral refers to anything that has to do with moving through the intestines. Thus, this category encompasses any strategy that involves introducing the medication in a manner that makes use of the digestive tract. Examples of this approach would include the use of liquid medications, tablets, capsules, or powders that are ingested orally. The use of a feeding tube to run nutrients directly into the gastrointestinal tract would also be considered enteral in nature. This particular class is easily the most common of all routes.


The third class is known as the parenteral route of administration. This approach involves the introduction of medication by means that do not involve the use of the digestive tract. Injections of all types are part of this classification, as is intravenous drip therapy, and even inhalation. These methods are usually employed when there is a need to introduce the medication into the body as quickly as possible.

While health professionals primarily use the concept of the route of administration, forensics experts and other law enforcement professionals also routinely use the term when poisons or illegal drugs are used in the commission of a crime. Identifying the route used to administer the substance to the victim can often help shed some light on how the incident took place, and possibly lead to clues that allow officers to locate and arrest the perpetrator of the crime. For example, knowing that a poison was administered orally can lead law officers to test glasses and other drinking vessels at the site of the crime until they find one with trace amounts of the poison still present, and test that vessel for fingerprints or some type of DNA evidence that could identify others who were present during the commission of the crime.

Choosing the best route of administration involves properly assessing the needs of the patient. For example, an individual with severe head congestion may be given an injection as a way of speeding the process of killing the bacteria and easing any inflammation that may be present. At the same time, someone who is suffering with an ongoing ailment that requires a steady supply of medication to the system may be provided with pills or tablets that slowly release the medicine into the system throughout the day.


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