Time to End Food Allergy Tragedies
To prevent more tragedies, people need to get past the fear of needles and drugs and learn how to use the auto-injector. But having an injector at the ready is still a problem in too many places. In most states, schools won’t administer a prescription drug like epinephrine unless it’s prescribed by a doctor for a specific child.
When 13-year-old Katelyn Carlson of Chicago died after she inadvertently ate peanut in food at a class party in 2010, she did not have an auto-injector at school. Her death led to an Illinois law that encourages schools to keep an unprescribed auto-injector and to allow trained staff to use it in an emergency. In January, the Chicago Public Schools board announced that all of its schools will now have stock auto-injectors on hand in public schools.
At least four other states, including Virginia where Amarria died, are working toward similar laws; a bill before the New York Senate would even require educator trainees to know how to use an epinephrine auto-injector before they receive certification as teachers.
Now politicians in Washington are giving the rest of the country a nudge in the same direction. A proposed law would reward states with preferred access to federal grant money if they require that schools have a supply of epinephrine auto-injectors and train staff to administer the life-saving medication.
The bill, called the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, is backed by Republicans and Democrats and gaining support. Since trained staff could use the school’s “stock” auto-injector if they believe a child is having an anaphylactic reaction, this could save lives. Consider that children often suffer their first allergic reaction at school; studies show that one-quarter of reactions reported at school happened to children who had not yet been diagnosed with food allergies.
The move to having stock auto-injectors makes perfect sense. Think of it this way: If you see a teacher collapse in the cafeteria and complain of a severe crushing chest pain, someone would get out the automated external defibrillator or AED. Would they ask first whether the teacher had a note from the doctor? So why not take the same approach when child with an allergy eats a peanut and starts struggling for breath?
That might have saved little Amarria. One thing is clear about her sad story: she didn’t have an auto-injector at school. When Amarria started Grade 1 at Hopkins Road Elementary, her mother Laura says she took her auto-injector, along with the child’s action plan for asthma and allergies, to the school clinic. The mother says she remembers what the woman in the clinic said: “We have everything we need for Amarria. You can take it (the EpiPen) home just in case you need it.” Laura says she trusted the school employee; she sent her daughter to school without her auto-injector. (The spokesman for the school declined to comment on Laura’s account.)
Laura was at her job as a practical nurse at a senior citizens’ home on January 2 when the call came: “Amarria had a peanut and her tongue is swelling,” someone in the school clinic said. The next thing Laura says she heard was: “Can someone come and get her?”
“I said call 911!” Laura raced to the hospital, but her daughter was dead by the time she got there. The rest is a blur. A few days later, a group of supporters gathered in front of Amarria’s home to hold an evening vigil. “It’s a hurting thing,” Amarria’s grandfather, Leroy Green, told reporters. “We need to educate our schools. We need to educate our parents. This could happen again.”
Next page: Can you be sued for giving epinephrine?