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EpiPen bill good news for schools

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Liam Denny probably drank soy milk hundreds of times before his body went into anaphylactic shock five years ago, shutting down his respiratory system and throwing his mother into high gear.

“We already knew he was allergic to peanuts, milk and eggs,” Sarah Denny, a pediatrician, said of her son, who is now 7. “So we had the epinephrine injectors, but what if this happened to another child at school, one who didn't have a prescription or a mother trained to know what to do?”

Proponents of the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act heralded legislation President Obama signed on Wednesday that urges states to adopt laws requiring schools to have “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors on hand without student-specific prescriptions.

Epinephrine, often delivered through EpiPen injectors, can prevent adverse reactions and death in children who have severe allergies, such as Obama's daughter Malia, who has a peanut allergy.

Denny, an emergency room physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, started lobbying for state legislation years ago.

“So not only is this great for the 27 states who already have laws in place,” she said, “but it also provides prioritization to states still working to pass them.”

About 25 percent of epinephrine shots given in schools involve children who weren't known to be allergic, said pediatrician Todd Green, who works in the division of pulmonary medicine, allergy and immunology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Most food reactions happen quickly, he said, with symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, hives, vomiting, lowered blood pressure and, if untreated, death.

School officials who think someone is having an attack should administer the drug immediately, he said.

“I tell every baby-sitter, every teacher, every nurse, every soccer coach — anyone who takes care of my son,” Denny said, “I would so much rather you give the Epi and be wrong than not give the Epi and be wrong.”

Food allergies cause more than 300,000 hospital visits a year among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They affect one in 13 children, according to Food Allergy Research & Education Inc., a nonprofit.

Pennsylvania schools can stock the auto-injectors, but they aren't required. Policies and levels of protection for students vary from district to district.

In North Hills School District, educators keep EpiPens in classrooms, gyms, playgrounds, cafeterias and in packs for field trips.

School nurses train teachers before the school year begins, said spokeswoman Amanda Hartle.

“We want to have them close to the students who need them,” she said. “A younger kid might not know where it is in his backpack or understand yet how to give it to himself.”

Federal grant money and programs offered by drug companies to provide free or low-cost medication are designed to ease the financial burden on school districts.

State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, proposed legislation in the spring that would require schools to maintain a supply and train personnel.

Senate Bill 898 is under consideration in the state Senate Education Committee. The federal law took two years to pass through Congress.

“We've seen what can happen when medication is not available to a student experiencing anaphylaxis,” Smith said. “These tragic deaths are preventable — and, frankly, unacceptable — when the solution is simply having medication and trained personnel on hand.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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