A simple change in Oklahoma law would allow school nurses to react quickly to save children with life-threatening allergic reactions, a state lawmaker said.
House Bill 2101 would allow school nurses to use epinephrine auto-injectors, often known by the brand name EpiPens, on students they suspect are having such medical emergencies.
“When you're throat is swelling and you can't breathe, it's seconds,” said Rep. Will Fourkiller, a nurse and former teacher.
The bill passed the House of Representatives, but the Senate returned it, asking for clarification on some issues.
Fourkiller said the idea for the bill came from his wife, who is a school nurse in a rural area near Stilwell.
Students are allowed to bring auto-injectors to school only with a prescription. But nurses and other adults have few options for anyone with an unknown allergy, especially in rural communities, said Fourkiller, D-Stilwell. By the time an ambulance transported a student with anaphylaxis to the nearest hospital, it might be too late, he said.
Anaphylaxis is a fast, severe allergic reaction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reaction has a variety of symptoms, such as hives, trouble breathing and shock. It can cause death. Someone who is suffering from anaphylaxis needs medical attention immediately.
For food allergies, the best treatment is auto-injected epinephrine, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
About 1 in 6 children with food allergies have discovered they are allergic after an accidental ingestion at school, according to the CDC.
Furthermore, about 1 in 4 cases of anaphylaxis at school happen to students who didn't know they had an allergy in the first place, according to the CDC.
“Children have lost their lives because they didn't know they were allergic,” Fourkiller said.
Last year, a first-grader in Virginia died after eating a peanut a friend gave her during recess, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Afterward, Virginia lawmakers required school officials to keep epinephrine auto-injectors on site. Similar legislation has passed in Maryland and Illinois.
In Oklahoma, students are only allowed to give themselves two types of medicine at school: anaphylaxis medicine and asthma inhalers. Both types of medicine have to be specifically prescribed, and a student's parent and doctor must notify school officials in writing each school year.
School nurses and administrators are bound by the specifics of the law when it comes to who can be treated with auto-injectors, said Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Education Department.
“The current law would allow this only to those students who have been seen by a doctor,” Pemberton said. “Rep. Fourkiller is seeking broader use.”