Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Schools here shun allergic-reaction kits

Despite new push from U.S. law

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U.S. President Barack Obama believes every school in the U.S. should have an EpiPen in the school office for allergic-reaction emergencies.

Educators here are cool to the idea. It would cost about $74,000 to put the epinephrine kit in every public school in Manitoba.

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act takes effect Jan. 1 in the United States. While not binding on states, it encourages states to require EpiPen in every school and provides financial grants, said Dr. David Stukus, an allergy/asthma physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Stukus said by email a Republican congressman from Tennessee proposed the legislation, and Obama signed it into law.

"Here in Ohio, our proposed legislation has received wide support from members of both parties," Stukus said.

"Laws passing in Ohio and other states is also crucial to provide training for school staff to legally give any student an epinephrine injection in the case of anaphylactic shock or suspected anaphylactic shock.

"Since it's estimated that one in four children experiences their first allergic reaction to food while at school, this is extremely important," said Stukus.

But educators here are not enthusiastic and say the issue is far more complicated than just buying a kit for the office.

"This is not something we have contemplated or would wish to, as the EpiPen vary in dosage and should be prescribed," Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O'Leary said. "Students' health and safety depend on them knowing and taking the precautions needed for their own health. EpiPens are expensive.

"This may be a response to issues of poverty and prescription-drug prices" in the U.S., said O'Leary.

"Manitoba schools work with URIS (unified referral and intake services) of the WRHA to implement medical plans for every student with significant health issues," he said.

An aide to Education Minister James Allum said the current system here works.

"Our schools are required to have health-care plans that are tailored to the needs of individual students, whether they have asthma, severe allergies, etc.," she said. "These plans are based on recommendations from health-care professionals and schools are required to follow them.

"The plan may require the child to carry an inhaler or an EpiPen or the school to assist the child in the use of the inhaler or EpiPen, if needed," said Allum's staffer.

The Winnipeg School Division considered stocking EpiPens a few years ago, said communications officer Dale Burgos, but eventually concluded the idea clashed with a board policy on administering medication to students and was too costly.

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said it's an idea best decided by each division.

"EpiPens are indeed expensive, so one might want to advocate for more financial help for people/families who need them, rather than any notion of having them sitting in the school office 'just in case,' " Olson said.

The Allergy Canada website lists EpiPens at $106.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 A10

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