Jen Anderson’s son starts turning red. His lips swell, his skin breaks out in hives and his airway closes. She knows he’s having a severe allergic reaction.
And he knows what to do.
The 8-year-old stabs himself with his epinephrine auto-injector, better known by the brand name EpiPen.
“It’s really not hard” to diagnose, Anderson said. “It’s pretty evident what’s going on.”
One in 12 school-aged children has a food allergy, according to a 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics, about two in every classroom. But not all of those kids carry epinephrine or even know they have an allergy.
And right now, unless a student has a health plan on file with a prescription and doctor’s recommendation, school health providers can’t give the medication.
They call 911 and hope help arrives in time.
That’s why Anderson, a 38-year-old Frisco mother of two, wrote to the Summit School Board in support of a new policy that would allow schools to stock extra epinephrine.
The idea is that if a student or staff member has an undiagnosed allergy, epinephrine would be there ready to alleviate potentially fatal symptoms.
“Isn’t it worth it if it saves just one life?” she wrote.
At a meeting Tuesday night, school board members unanimously voted down an option in the district’s medical policy that would allow schools to stock and administer epinephrine to students having undiagnosed severe allergic reactions.
Before the vote, they discussed the pros and cons of the issue and heard from school nurse Karen Tosetti-Scott.
All seven board members voiced questions and concerns.
Do the paraprofessionals get enough training to identify symptoms and call 911? asked board member Marilyn Taylor.
Superintendent Heidi Pace said enough adults would always be around, someone would call 911.
What about diagnosed kids with expired EpiPens? asked board secretary Alison Casias.
And the biggest question of all: Board vice president Erin Young asked, Does the risk to the student going without the medicine outweigh the risk of giving an unprescribed drug?
In November, a federal law passed that would allow schools to stockpile undesignated epinephrine.
Since then, four Colorado school districts have adopted the policy, Tosetti-Scott said, all rural. Seventeen districts rejected the policy, and the rest of the state’s 178 districts are still considering it.
In Summit, most of the 17 nurses and health assistants said they were against the policy, with 12 against and five in favor.
Her main concern, Tosetti-Scott said, was that the school’s paraprofessionals, who have only CPR and basic first aid training, don’t feel comfortable diagnosing anaphylaxis or giving epinephrine.
“That’s what really scares me,” Anderson said. “They’re afraid of epinephrine, which is a life-saving tool.”
Epinephrine could cause serious heart problems or be fatal, Tosetti-Scott said, if improperly injected or given to people with certain conditions or taking certain medications.
The best course of action would be to call an ambulance, she said, which have an average response time in Summit County of seven to 15 minutes.
Tosetti-Scott said she wasn’t sure about liability issues for school staff and how Good Samaritan laws would apply in these situations.
She also mentioned issues with cost, each pack of two pens costs $350, and training and staffing resources.
Right now, she said, not one of the district’s schools has a full-time school nurse.