Ohio schools may get weapon to fight deadly allergies

Ohio Association of School Nurses praises proposed legislation for eliminating what could be a difficult decision.
MCT Regional News
Nov 17, 2013

The smallest smudge of peanut butter can cause swelling, cut off oxygen supply and even kill a child with a peanut allergy, and a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly would help schools be prepared for such emergencies.

House Bill 296, which awaits a vote in the Ohio House of Representatives, would allow schools and camp programs to stock epinephrine, a form of adrenaline that can be easily injected to slow a life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Teachers, nurses, and other staff members who administer epinephrine in emergency situations would be granted immunity from liability.

The Ohio Association of School Nurses praised the bill for eliminating what could be a difficult decision: Illegally using another student’s medication to save a life or hope the ambulance arrives quickly.

Epinephrine prescriptions are encased in a plastic tube that protects a needle. To use, the tube is pressed against the outer thigh to inject the medicine. The needle is covered the whole time.

Currently, schools hold epinephrine prescribed only for students with known allergies. If a student reacts to an allergy for the first time at school, school officials call 9-1-1 to rush the student to the hospital.

“We shouldn’t have to think of all those things — it shouldn’t be a question,” said Kate King, president of the Ohio Association of School Nurses.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Dr. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, whose 1-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. Duffey’s daughter swelled after eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was rushed to the hospital for treatment.

“Before we knew in April, she still had that allergy and we were not prepared for it,” Duffey said. “Schools are not prepared for children who do not know they have an allergy.”

The bill does not mandate schools to stock epinephrine but removes barriers to obtaining the medication, which Duffey said is enough that schools will want to participate. The bill has had wide support and was unanimously approved by the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

“This is going to start a larger discussion about where all the places Epi-pens could make sense and how do we allow people to be good Samaritans and allow people to do it without being sued.”

Twenty-six states have passed similar laws, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Ohio is among six states considering a law, and more will likely join since President Barack Obama signed legislation this week encouraging states to do so.

The federal law does not allow schools to stock epinephrine but will provide grants for the medicine to schools in states that have passed permissive laws. Epi-pens or Auvi-Q auto-injectors can cost more than $100.

“To give grants will really seal the deal for us and it will become a standard of practice even though it’s not mandated a standard of practice,” King said.

The prevalence of food allergies among children increased 18 percent during the 10 years from 1997-2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Candy Schrempp of Centerville said an Ohio law could save lives. Schrempp’s 6-year-old son was diagnosed with peanut and egg allergies when he was 18 months old.

“Parents still don’t understand the severity of food allergies and I don’t think one can if they haven’t experienced their child gasping for breath, unable to breathe,” Schrempp said.”Just because a child had hives once, doesn’t mean it won’t be worse in the future. You just don’t know what could happen.”

Schrempp helped found the support group Families Educating Allergy/Asthma Together (FEAT) in the Dayton area. Members’ experiences are a resource for families new to allergies or starting a new phase of life with allergies.

Staying safe at school was completely new for Schrempp’s son A.J.. His first-grade classroom is peanut and tree nut free and he carries an Epi-pen as he travels from classroom to classroom.

Virginia Noe, a nurse and director of health services for Dayton Public Schools, said the district has not served peanuts or shellfish for more than five years to help prevent allergies. Noe said DPS has not decided how much epinephrine to stock and what the cost might be but added she could probably fit the amount into the health services budget.

“Everything has a cost,” Noe said. “Keeping children safe at school is a priority.”

More information: Find out what the most common allergies are that impact students. Also, see a map showing other states that already have a law allowing schools to stock epinephrine. MyDaytonDailyNews.com

For more information about the Dayton-area support group Familes Educating Allergies/Asthma Together, contact featdayton@yahoo.com

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By Jackie Borchardt - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)

©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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