Stalled bill could save lives

Apr. 09, 2014 @ 06:35 PM

If schools stored emergency epinephrine injectors, the medicine that quickly treats a severe allergic reaction could literally be a lifesaver for some children.

School nurses overwhelmingly support the idea. All but five states already require schools to have devices on hand.  The manufacturer of the most common device, brand-named EpiPen, has said they would initially be free for every school. The state House voted unanimously -- 115-0 -- last April for a bill to require the injectors.

“I think this will help save lives,” Rep. Tim Murry, a Morrisville Republican, said last spring.

This would seem like a no-brainer that would have quickly sped through the state Senate.

But it did not. It languished in committee through the end of the session.

Senate leaders have never offered an explanation of why, although North Carolina Health News noted in October that it was stuck in committee “in part because of concerns about eventual costs.” And at an Education Oversight Committee meeting in Raleigh Tuesday, Rep. Craig Horn articulated that concern.

"I’m trying to get a gauge on the budget impact, because there will be a budget impact if this bill passes in the short session in the Senate," the Weddington Republican said.

Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat who was one of the House bill’s sponsors, pointed out the manufacturer’s offer to provide free pens and a federal law enacted last year that would provide grants for putting the devices in school.

At that committee meeting, the bill’s supporters unleashed their push to get the bill through the Senate in the short legislative session that begins next month.

"Many children with deadly allergies do not have an EpiPen at school, maybe they’re not diagnosed with the allergy yet,” Kendra Montgomery-Blinn told the committee. Her son suffers from a potentially deadly peanut allergy.

More than one child in 20 has a food allergy, and that number has been growing steadily in recent years. While parents who know of their child’s allergy can send an EpiPen to school where a nurse or other official can administer a reaction-halting dose, often a child’s first reaction occurs at school.

When a student does go into anaphylactic shock as result of the reaction, if he or she has no prescribed epinephrine injector on hand, officials can only call 911 and wait for medical help.

Four students in other states have died waiting for help, according to Dr. Ben Wright, a Duke University researcher, WRAL reported. Wright said the number of North Carolina students needing EpiPen injections at school has jumped from 5,000 in 2004 to 13,000 in 2012.

"Now what’s really great about North Carolina is that we haven’t had a child die in our schools, so this bill is not named after a child,” Montgomery-Blinn said Tuesday. "This bill is a preventative bill and hopefully we’ll get it passed before we ever have a child to name it after and it will save lives."

We hope the state Senate was listening.