Parents Advocate For Michigan Schools To Stock EpiPens

By: Caroline Vandergriff Email
By: Caroline Vandergriff Email

What's bugging you Mid-Michigan? Some local parents say EpiPens not being required in all schools is what's bugging them.

Six million children in the US have food allergies -- the number one cause of anaphylaxis, severe allergic reactions that can be fatal. Immediate access to epinephrine, an anti-allergen, can save a child's life.

Currently, there is no state wide policy for schools to deal with life-threatening allergies, and many parents and health care advocates are looking to change that.

Jaime Lewis has two young kids with allergies. Her son Lincoln is two years old.

"My son is allergic to milk, casein, wheat, and environmental products like fragrance," Lewis said.

That means Lewis has to take extra precautions for her children.

"With allergies, you never know," said Lewis. "With children, it's a lot more severe and the reaction time is less, so you just never know what you're getting into."

And what kids get into can be fatal Dr. Chris Pohlod says allergic reactions are unpredictable, and the most severe can cause anaphylaxis.

"The best way to be treated for anaphylactic shock is to number one, know what's happening," said Dr. Pohlod. "And then number two, give what's called epinephrine, in pre-filled syringes. It's extremely important to have the necessary medicine on hand to do that."

An EpiPen typically costs around $100. Dr. Pohlod says anyone who administers an EpiPen should be well-trained, but there's not much risk if accidentally used on a child who is not in anaphylactic shock.

"It would increase the heart rate, and it might increase the blood pressure as well," said Dr. Pohlod. "It's generally thought though, that the reaction is going to be fairly short-lived. If you have to balance between not knowing what anaphylaxis was and giving epinephrine, it would be safe in most kids, unless there's a known severe heart problem."

Lewis sends her kids to the Educational Child Care Center in Lansing. At EC3, all of the staff are trained to treat allergic reactions and EpiPens are kept on site.

"In an early childhood setting, there are often families who aren't aware their children have allergies," said Elisabeth Weston, the executive director of EC3. "This is where the symptoms first emerge. So it's really important our staff be aware of the symptoms of anaphylaxis and know how to treat it."

EC3's allergy policy is one of the reasons Lewis feels comfortable sending her kids there, but not every school has similar priorities.

"My daughter is going to kindergarten next year, so it's a concern for me that the school is going to be on board with it as well," Lewis said.

Currently, it is the responsibility of a parent or legal guardian to provide an EpiPen for their child. If a parent knows their child has severe allergies, they can provide a doctor's note and EpiPen to the school to make sure one is on site.

However, doctors say sometimes kids don't know they have serious food allergies until they're exposed to them, making it important to have treatment on-hand and staff who know how to administer it.

A senate bill addressing the issue in Michigan was proposed for the 2009-2010 school year, but it never made it out of committee. Now, parents hope lawmakers will revisit previous efforts to require all schools to stock EpiPens and to train staff on their use.

Illinois and Georgia have laws requiring schools to have EpiPens on site.

Virginia's governor is expected to sign a similar bill into law today, sparked by a seven-year-old Virginia girl who died from an allergic reaction to peanuts. The new legislation is intended to ensure that children without an EpiPen will have access to the medication in case of an allergic reaction. It also requires training for school officials to recognize signs of a severe reaction and to administer epinephrine.

In Michigan, it's up to each individual school district to put an action plan into place for kids with allergies.


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