Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 25, 2014

Parents, doctors urge board to stock EpiPens in schools

Schools currently only keep anti-allergy drug for students with prescriptions, known allergies

by Chris Kenrick

Doctors and parents came out in force Tuesday to urge the Palo Alto Board of Education to require schools to stock medication that can save a child from dying from a sudden allergic reaction.

About a dozen people — including several physicians whose children attend Palo Alto elementary schools — said schools should keep the drug Epinephrine, designed for use even by untrained personnel in the form of simple, pre-dosed "EpiPens," on hand in case of allergic reactions to incidents like bee stings or ingesting allergy-triggering food, such as peanuts.

"I implore you to adopt this proposal," said Stanford University physician Heather Henri, the mother of a first-grader at Walter Hays Elementary School. Henri said there's been a "rapid escalation in the incidence of severe food allergies."

She and Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician Angela Wong, a Duveneck Elementary School parent, presented signatures of more than 200 local doctors in support of schools keeping a "universal stock" of EpiPens.

Currently schools keep only prescribed EpiPens for specific children with asthma or other known allergies, to be used in cases of a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.

But Wong said that 25 percent of life-threatening allergic reactions that occur in schools are the result of undiagnosed allergies, in which cases school personnel must wait for emergency medical assistance or break the law by using an EpiPen prescribed for another child.

"Waiting for emergency services to arrive at a school is not a safe plan because Epinephrine needs to be injected as early as possible from onset of reaction," stated the doctors' petition submitted by Wong. "Delay can, and does, result in death."

In November, President Barack Obama signed into law the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Law, which offers financial incentives for schools to maintain supplies of the medication.

California legislation that would require schools to stock EpiPens, sponsored by State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, was met with resistance from unions representing teachers and other school employees in hearings earlier this month.

Currently five states — Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Virginia — require schools to stock EpiPens.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, Duveneck parent Amy Kacher brought two different versions of EpiPens and held them up for board members to see. She described in detail the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, from itchy throat on the playground to medical emergency.

"Let's get these pens into our schools," Kacher said. "Please don't let a myriad of meetings and conversations drag this on and on."

Parent Clara Dye, president of the Duveneck PTA, simulated how an untrained person would use an EpiPen by following audible instructions embedded in the device.

Parent Kathy Howe, whose children do not have known allergies, urged the board to take initiative on the EpiPen issue.

"We should have non-student-specific EpiPens in our classrooms and with yard duties (playground supervisors) and have people empowered to use them," Howe said. "It's important that we are a leader in this area."

Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who said the Palo Alto school district is "looking at (the EpiPen issue) strongly," appeared to be impressed by the testimonies.

Prior to hearing the parents and doctors speak, Skelly noted that no other school district in Santa Clara County currently stocks non-student-specific EpiPens and that the Los Angeles Unified School District recently rejected a proposal to do so.

"We want to hear why did Los Angeles, for example, decide not to do that. What are the upsides and downsides of that? We are aware of this issue and we are looking at this as a concern."

Following the speakers, Skelly suggested he would prepare an update on the issue for a future board meeting.

"The points made tonight were compelling and helpful, particularly those of you involved in the medical field who deal with allergies all the time," he said.

In an emergency, he noted, it could be quicker for school personnel to take an EpiPen off the shelf rather than sort through plastic bags full of student prescriptions to find the right one.

"In the next week or so we'll send out an email asking for your help in drawing up protocols, with the board's direction. We could certainly use the tremendous wisdom that's in this room on this topic."

Skelly suggested that the doctors take their case to the county to have a broader impact.

"You in the medical community could push on the Santa Clara County Health Department and others that help us set guidelines," he said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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