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Parents want schools to be allowed to stock life-saving EpiPens

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Published Apr. 9, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Tom Bohacek has an EpiPen at his Tampa preschool in case he accidentally eats a peanut product.

Not all Florida children are that lucky.

Thousands of kids with undiagnosed allergies to food and insect bites aren't able to get a critical epinephrine injection if they have an allergic reaction at school. That's because state law forbids school nurses from giving the injections to students who don't have a prescription.

Florida parents are hoping the Legislature will pass a proposal allowing schools to have their own supply of epinephrine injectors. School employees would be trained to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and administer the shots when necessary, regardless of whether the child has already been diagnosed.

"There are children who have their first allergic reaction at school, or parents who aren't aware of the severity of their child's food allergy, so they don't buy the EpiPen," said Tom's mother, Erin Bohacek. "Allowing a school to have EpiPens for cases like those could save lives."

Allergies are a serious risk for school-aged children. One in every 13 children in the United States has a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

In some cases, allergic reactions can be deadly. On Sunday, an 8-year-old boy in New Jersey went into cardiac arrest and died, possibly due to an allergic reaction to milk. Last year, a 7-year-old Virginia girl died from a suspected peanut allergy at school.

An epinephrine injector, sometimes known by the brand name EpiPen, delivers medication to the bloodstream that can treat acute allergic reactions and stave off anaphylactic shock.

Under current law, school nurses in Florida can give epinephrine injections only to students who already have a prescription and have brought their own EpiPen to school.

If the legislation (HB 369/SB 284) is approved, public and private schools could have their own supply of the medication. Schools would have to develop protocols for using the devices; certain teachers or the school nurse would be trained to give the shot.

What's more, the school would not be liable for possible injuries to the student.

This isn't the first time the Legislature has grappled with the idea. Lawmakers have opted not to sign similar proposals into law during previous sessions.

But advocates have reason to be hopeful this time around.

Last week, all 40 members of the Senate voted in favor of the proposal. The House Education Committee will weigh in today. If the panel passes the bill, it will head to the House floor.

So far, almost no opposition has been raised.

That's good news for Charlotte Collins, vice president for policy and programs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

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"No one can predict how severe a food allergic reaction will be," Collins said. "It is essential for schools to prepare by stocking epinephrine, the life-saving medication for food allergy emergencies."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.