Asked & Answered: New law requires schools to have EpiPens

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
Gov. Rick Snyder signed laws recently requiring Michigan public schools to have epinephrine injectors to treat allergic reactions. Schools will be required to have two epinephrine devices starting next academic year and ensure that a minimum of two staff members are trained to use them. Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons sponsored the bills. She was first elected to the Michigan House in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. Her district, the 86th, portions of Kent and Ionia County includes the cities of Belding, Ionia and Lowell as well as the townships of Easton, Ionia, Orleans, Otisco, Ada, Bowne, Caledonia, Cascade, Grattan, Lowell and Vergennes.
Thorpe: How did you first become involved in this issue?
Posthumus Lyons: Our schools are constantly revising policies and practices to ensure that our children are safe during the school day. As the chair of the House Education Committee and mother of four young children — one of whom suffered from a peanut allergy as a toddler and has thankfully outgrown — I’m very receptive to listening to other parents about their concerns relating to safety issues. This issue came to my attention when I heard the story of a seven-year-old girl in Virginia who suffered an anaphylactic reaction in school, brought on by a food allergy. Her school did not have an epinephrine injector known as an “EpiPen” on site and her physicians have stated that had she received the injection her life may have been saved. I don’t want that same tragedy to happen here in Michigan. Minutes matter when it comes to allergies, and I want to ensure our schools are able to respond in an emergency situation. I’m so thankful to the Legislature for passing, and to the Governor for signing this important legislation. 
Thorpe: Tell us about the dangers of anaphylactic shock. How does the device counter them?
Posthumus Lyons: Children are among the most vulnerable to allergic reactions and anaphylaxis, severe allergic reactions, that can be fatal within minutes through swelling that shuts off airways or through a drop in blood pressure. Nearly 25 percent of anaphylaxis occurs in individuals who have never had a reaction before or who were not aware they had an allergy. Kids who are exposed to a potential food allergy need immediate help in the critical minutes following an exposure, as rapid decline and death can occur within 15 to 60 minutes or less according to the National Institutes of Health. Epinephrine injectors are the most effective emergency treatment for anaphylaxis. The injectors are simple devices used to immediately get epinephrine into the allergy victim’s system, slowing down the allergic reaction to give emergency personnel time to treat and save the student’s life.
Thorpe: What are some of the allergies that an epinephrine injector might be appropriate for?
Posthumus Lyons: The devices can slow the allergic reactions to foods (nuts, shellfish, fish, dairy, eggs, soy are most common), the stinging and biting of insects, medications and latex. 
Thorpe: Was it difficult to persuade your fellow legislators of the value of the legislation?
Posthumus Lyons: I myself had concerns before I agreed to sponsor and push for the legislation. First, I was hesitant to impose an unfunded mandate on schools, and I felt parents should be responsible for providing the school with epinephrine injectors for their own children. These concerns were quickly addressed when I learned how inexpensive the life-saving injectors are, and the most compelling point that made me believe this policy was the right thing to do was when I learned that 25 percent of anaphylactic reactions occur in people who had never before experienced an allergic reaction or did not know they had an allergy. The benefit of saving a child’s life simply outweighed any argument against taking action. 
Thorpe: Schools can qualify for free EpiPens through a program being offered by a pharmaceutical company. How does that work?
Posthumus Lyons: Several major pharmaceutical companies already offer free or highly discounted EpiPen’s to K-12 educational institutions. There’s a fairly simple process for applying and it’s a great public service that offsets, in most cases, any potential prohibitive cost to the school. Additionally, the legislation provides for schools to be reimbursed by the state if they are unable to receive the injectors through a private entity like one of these programs or another donation. This legislation essentially puts no financial burden on schools while ensuring that they have the life-saving injectors on hand. 
Thorpe: Are you looking at other potential health risks in schools? Are other bills on the horizon?
Posthumus Lyons: As a mom with kids in our public schools, the most important thing to me is that my kids are safe when they go to school. There are always safety issues of all kinds surrounding education, and we have worked on several bills that modernize emergency drills for schools, as well as passing anti-bullying legislation that was also signed by the Governor. Parents deserve to know that their children’s safety is a priority, and I will continue to ensure the legislature does its part.

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