By Frank Lewis
October 17, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
It’s that nightmare parents who have children with allergies hope to never endure. Your child is away from you at school when he or she has an allergic reaction to something such as a food item. The nightmare is that, in this day and age, schools have their hands tied as to what they can or can’t do in the way of dealing with health emergencies.
State Representative Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) recently introduced legislation with Representative Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) they say strives to better prepare schools to treat severe allergic reactions among students.
House Bill 296 permissively allows a school or school district to stock non-patient specific doses of epinephrine on the school premises. It would be available to anyone experiencing a severe allergic reaction. The legislation will allow, but not require, a school district to adopt a protocol to maintain a stock of epinephrine and allow properly trained personnel to administer the emergency epinephrine to a student, staff member or visitors.
“Ohio law currently allows a school nurse and a student to possess and use epinephrine in case of an emergency, but only for a student with a known food allergy,” Johnson said. “If a child without a standing order for the life-saving drug has an allergic reaction, a school nurse would not legally be able to do anything but call 911, even though she may have a cabinet full of Epi-Pens. That is a problem this bill fixes.”
Portsmouth City Schools nurse Heather Harcha said school officials have discussed the issue and she supports it.
“I think it would be a wonderful idea,” Harcha said. “We have several kids who have allergies, and maybe some they don’t even know about yet, so to have that kind of accessibility would be wonderful. EMS take a while to get here, so if we have it in a hurry it could help save a child’s life. So I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
Duffey’s support stems from a personal experience.
“My daughter Annie’s life was saved by an Epi-Pen following her first severe allergic reaction to peanut butter,” Duffey said. “We were completely surprised by it. I want to make sure other parents whose children experience an unexpected allergy are able to get the help they need.”
Harcha said there are probably details on the implementation that need to be addressed as it moves forward.
“I think there’s going to be some problems with it, but I think, all in all, as far as who prescribes medicine; who pays for it,” Harcha said. “But once things like that are worked out, I think it would be a wonderful idea. It would be something I would be for.”
House Bill 296 outlines the training to be provided, the interaction with medical and school nurse professionals, as well as the liability protection for the trained employees that administer the dose in a proper manner. Additionally, there is currently a program available through a manufacturer to provide up to four auto-injectors at no cost to each school that applies for the doses through June 2014. If the bill is enacted in a timely manner, schools may be able to obtain these free doses for the current school year.
Schools currently permit individual students to bring an epinephrine auto-injector to school if prescribed by a physician. However, those doses are patient-specific and are not available to every student, staff member or visitor. Medical experts indicate epinephrine is essentially adrenaline, and therefore it is safe to administer even if a healthy person were to receive the drug.
Johnson said recent tragedies in other states have brought to light the need for schools to be able to respond to unexpected allergic reactions. Anaphylactic shock caused by previously unknown allergies can occur very quickly and recently claimed the lives of students in Virginia and Maryland. Both states have since passed laws similar to House Bill 296 in an effort to save lives.
House Bill 296 has been assigned to the House Education Committee where it will be discussed.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.