By Kristen Stewart
Tom Abinanti, a Democratic Assemblyman representing New York’s District 92, knows firsthand the importance of having an Epi-Pen® at the ready during an emergency anaphylactic reaction.
“I have a 14-year-old son with autism and it turns out he has severe food allergies,” says Abinanti. He and his wife learned this when the boy ingested almonds as a young child. Fortunately it was not a severe reaction and they had an Epi-Pen® handy because their pediatrician had detected what he thought was an allergy to peanuts. (It turns out he is actually allergic to all tree nuts.)
Years later after reading an article in the New York Times about school children with undiagnosed allergies, he put two and two together. A child could be denied access to an epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) during an attack of anaphylaxis even when one was on hand, simply because of restrictions and the EAI’s expected use.
“Given my personal story with my son I immediately realized we should have Epi-PensTM available for as many kids as possible in schools,” he says.
What followed was research, drafting, discussion and revising a bill (NYS A07791) that authorizes NYS schools to be able to stock epinephrine auto-injectors and allow the school nurse and/or other trained personnel to administer them in the event of an emergency, whether or not the individual has his or her own epinephrine prescription.
According to the nonprofit advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in 13 children under age 18 have food allergies, with an 18 percent increase having occurred between 1997 and 2007. A07791 is particularly important as food allergies occur in approximately 8 percent of children, and 25 to 30 percent of anaphylactic reactions happen at school to students who have never had a prior attack and are not aware of their allergies.
Abinanti and his staff have encountered some concerns about the bill. One is making sure people know the signs of an anaphylactic reaction so that a misdiagnosis doesn’t occur such as administering the EpiPen when really the child is choking. Ensuring proper training can help ease this worry.
Another issue is funding. “School districts are overwhelmed right now with all kinds of mandated costs,” he says. “Even if it’s for a good purpose, what happens is you don’t get a rational discussion, you get people reacting you’re taking more money away from the teaching function of schools and putting it somewhere else.”
To address this, his bill has been written to authorize schools to stock EAIs rather than requiring them to do so. Abinanti believes the enactment of the federal School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act late last year will also help this bill by sending the message that the federal government has looked at the issues and is satisfied that they can be overcome. He is also hopeful that if the bill passes and enough schools do it voluntarily, the state might be able to work out bulk contracts with EAI manufacturers to help keep costs reasonable.
While Assemblyman Abinanti is working hard on his end to get this legislation passed, he encourages concerned citizens to do their part as well. In addition to writing letters to one’s local legislators, he asks that copies of all correspondence about NYS bill A07791 be sent to him. Also as he is compiling a collection of support letters and will make sure Richard Gottfried, Chairman of the NYS Assembly Health Committee, sees them.
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Send copies of all correspondence related to NYS bill A07791 to Assemblyman Abinanti at LOB 631, Albany, NY 12248.