LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- A bill to be reintroduced in the Kentucky House would require schools to keep emergency medications on hand for school employees to administer to children suffering severe allergic reactions.
Rep. Addia Wuchner (R-Florence) originally proposed the bill in March but it stalled during the state budget battle. Wuchner explained that she has been prompted to advance the bill both by a constituent pediatrician and by her own experience with a grandchild who has a peanut allergy. Wuchner told WHAS11 she believes the bill has a good chance of approval in the next legislative session.
The legislation, however, faces criticism from school districts already saddled with increasing responsibilities related to the health and medical care of the student population.
"Their anxiety level right now is over their heads," said Laura Donahue, a nurse practitioner with Jefferson County Public Schools Health Services.
As it stands now in Jefferson County Public Schools, employees are only allowed to administer emergency drugs, such as epinephrine, when children have both a prescription for the drug and a medical action plan on file with the school.
Donahue said it should be a doctor's decision which child needs an "epi-pen," not a school employee.
"They are unlicensed staff and so that's just adding that much more stress to them," Donahue said.
"They are already required to go through epi-pen training as part of their yearly training that all teachers do," countered Dr. Wes Sublett of Family Allergy & Asthma in Louisville, "They are also required to do CPR training - so right there we are asking them to provide basic medical needs to children that are in distress."
Because some allergic reactions can be fatal, the bill would not only require students with life-threatening allergies to have an epinephrine auto-injector with them at school, but every Kentucky school would be required to have three epi-pens ready for any child -- even those who don't know they have a deadly allergy.
"If those kids were to have a serious life-threatening allergic reaction at school, there needs to be epinephrine available to treat those kids," Sublett said.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates 3 million children have food allergies, up nearly 20 percent in the last decade.
"Even when it touches my tongue, I feel - oh no - I ate something," explained Ali Elder, 10, a student at Wilder Elementary.
"I can notice when it's happening because my throat starts to feel funny and I puke."
Both Ali and her sister Addison, 5, have nut allergies. Ali has suffered several allergic reactions that have made her violently ill and cautious when offered classroom snacks or treats.
"I'd rather be safe than sorry," Ali told WHAS11. "So, if it's like a baked good from home, like handmade and stuff, then I probably won't eat it if I don't know what's in it."
The girls' mother, Amy Elder, reacted positively when told of Wuchner's bill.
"I think that's a wonderful idea," Elder said. "It's not going to hurt anybody, and even if they were to have some type of reaction and it's given to them, it's not a danger to them."
Sublett agreed, contending that even if a student who does not need an epinephrine injection receives one in error, it is unlikely to harm the student.
"The most likely thing is going to happen is that person is going to wake up and have a racing heart and maybe some sweating," Sublett said.
"It's just easier and clearer cut in my opinion to have the health care providers write the prescriptions and use it for that child," Donahue said, adding that the school would call 911 and wait for emergency responders to administer any drugs to children without an epi-pen stored at a school.
And for those children who do have a diagnosed allergy and corresponding medical plan, Donahue said JCPS is prepared to act on that plan. Donahue referenced ongoing, year-round training for faculty and staff.
"We take it very seriously," Donahue said. "Those kids are our responsibility while they are at school."
The bill is also aimed at keeping epi-pens at the ready in the event that a child with a documented allergy has not provided the school with her own auto-injector or if the prescribed medication cannot be located.
"If something did happen and they didn't have anything, then there would be a possible chance that the child could get really sick and ill," Ali Elder said, "and could possibly die."
At a cost of approximately $100 each, the three epi-pen requirement could cost JCPS an estimated $45,000 to equip schools and facilities with the auto-injectors. The medication would have to be replaced about every two years.
Kansas, Illinois and Georgia already have similar laws on the books.