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East Texas schools face obstacles to stock allergy shots

By Richard Yeakley
Jan. 8, 2014 at 11 p.m.

A federal law that went into effect this month encourages school districts to keep epinephrine injections - or EpiPens - in stock to help children having an allergic reaction. But fulfilling that directive won't be easy for all East Texas school districts.

"That is something that we were discussing during our last Student Health Advisory Council meeting," said Jenny Starr, the district nurse for New Diana ISD, an about 1,000-student Upshur County school district.

Starr said the district would like to provide EpiPens for students, but doesn't have a medical director. A doctor has to issue a prescription for the devices for a school district to keep them on hand.

The federal law, known as the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, was signed into law Nov. 13 and gave preferences for grants to states that permitted schools to stock EpiPens and train school employees on how to use the devices.

Some states do not allow school districts to stock EpiPens.

Gilmer ISD nurse Hillary Harris said the district is beginning to move toward having an EpiPen on each campus.

"It is not that schools aren't willing to (stock them), it's getting approval and funds," said Harris, who added that the district stores EpiPens for students who have been prescribed them.

A check with a local pharmacy Wednesday found EpiPens cost about $190 each.

The spare injections, which school districts like Pine Tree ISD and Hallsville ISD have on hand, are for students who have not been diagnosed with an allergy if they experience a reaction.

Jan Goldberg, lead nurse for Pine Tree ISD, said the extra EpiPens have never been used at campuses in the district.

"We were not concerned about the students who had the known allergies. We were concerned about the students that did not know and come in contact with something and have an emergency reaction," Goldberg said.

There is one shot on each campus and one for the athletic department that travels with teams.

Goldberg said, if needed, a shot from a spare EpiPen will be given to a student following orders given by the doctor who wrote the prescription allowing the district to keep the devices in stock.

Before giving the shot, the district will attempt to notify the student's parents and will not give the shot if the parents do not approve it.

After giving the shot, the district will call 911 for the student.

One of the first East Texas districts to have spare shots for allergic reactions is Hallsville ISD, which has had the devices for about seven years.

Like Pine Tree ISD, Hallsville's have never been needed, said Paula Bure, the director of health services for the district.

"When I came to the district ... (the doctor) agreed that because we were so far out away from hospitals and did not have a professional ambulance service ... we needed the shots," Bure said.

At that time the district was supported by a "very reliable volunteer service."

Bure said training to use EpiPens in the district is universal.

"Every school year, all of our staff on every campus goes through anaphylactic training," Bure said. "My ladies are very diligent about making sure that their campus personnel know where they and how to use them."

While more schools continue to stock the drugs for worst-case scenarios, Bure said the responsibility is ultimately still on the parent.

"It is still the parents' responsibility to provide for the school what is needed for the child during the day," she said.



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