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Updated Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 05:01 PM

School-nurses group opposes proposal to change EpiPen rules

By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — A seemingly noncontroversial bill aimed at making schools safer for students with food allergies has stalled in the Legislature after facing opposition from a state school-nurses group.

Senate Bill 5104 sailed through the Senate on a unanimous vote but got pulled from a scheduled hearing in the House amid an opposition campaign by the School Nurse Organization of Washington.

“I was totally blindsided,” said the bill sponsor, state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, adding that “the bill was literally drafted by listening to (individual) school nurses as a way to save lives.”

Mullet said he plans to meet Thursday with leaders of the group, a professional organization.

In its current form, the bill would allow any trained school employee to administer EpiPen shots to students experiencing what appear to be life-threatening allergic reactions — even to those who may not have been diagnosed with an allergy.

The shots — which contain epinephrine, come in small cylinders and are meant to be stuck into the outer thigh — can prevent or stop the most severe reactions, which can kill within minutes. The shots rarely cause harm if used when not needed, health officials say.

Mullet compares the treatment to CPR.

But currently, only school nurses and other medical professionals are allowed to administer the shots, and only to students known to have been diagnosed with an allergy.

In a letter to its members, leaders of the nurses group said they would support allowing nurses to administer the shots to undiagnosed students or allowing all trained school employees to administer the shots to diagnosed students — but not allowing all trained employees to administer the shots to undiagnosed students.

Mullet says that doesn’t go far enough because many schools do not employ a nurse full time and many allergies are undiagnosed.

About a quarter of first-time allergic reactions occur at school, according to the Food Allergy Initiative Northwest, which supports the bill.

One in 13 children is diagnosed with a food allergy, according to the initiative. Nearly half of those may be at risk for the most severe type of reaction.

James Apa, a spokesman for the Seattle-King County health department, said it is better for a trained, nonmedical professional to administer the shot than for a child to go without the shot — as long as 911 is called immediately.

The most important thing is that the administrator of the EpiPen shot — whoever it is — be trained in how to use it, said Apa, noting many parents give it to their kids.

Apa said his department has not taken an official position on the bill.

A lobbyist representing the school-nurses group declined to comment on the bill or expand on the reasons for opposing it, saying only, “we are in negotiations.”

In its letter, the leadership asked members to contact their representatives in the Legislature, and said the organization would be contacting all members of the House Education Committee.

The chairwoman of that committee, Seattle Democrat Sharon Tomiko Santos, said a decision to reschedule the bill’s hearing was not due to concerns with the proposal.

Still, supporters said the opposition from the nurses group could be a significant obstacle.

Mullet said he’s ultimately willing to consider the group’s version of the bill.

“I’d rather get something than nothing,” he said.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-235-2867 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal


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