Mom wants emergency EpiPen cabinet in daughter's school

Orla Nazarko says a lack of understanding is keeping a potentially life-saving first aid tool out of her daughter's school. She wants the Winnipeg School Division to allow installation of emergency EpiPen cabinets for children with allergies.

School division says it follows provincial protocol for administering medication to students

Orla Nazarko wants her daughter's school to install an EpiPen cabinet. (Danelle Cloutier/CBC)

Orla Nazarko says a lack of understanding is keeping a potentially life-saving first aid tool out of her daughter's school.

Nazarko's daughter Mila, 6, has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts but the Winnipeg School Division refuses to allow an EpiPen cabinet in her school as a backup in case the girl forgets her medication. 

"I just think there hasn't been enough awareness about it for people to realize that this could be something that's basic first aid, just like other emergency equipment we have: smoke detectors, fire alarms, AEDs," Nazarko said.

An EpiPen cabinet holds an emergency EpiPen and sounds an alarm when it is opened. EpiPens are disposable needles used to administer epinephrine (adrenaline) to someone suffering an anaphylactic allergic reaction.

The Winnipeg mom said she would feel safer if an EpiPen cabinet with an alarm was installed at Mila's school, as they are in dozens of Atlantic Canada schools, but the school division said it has plans in place for kids with EpiPens that follow Manitoba government protocol for administering medication to students.

"Only medication prescribed by a licensed practitioner will be administered by school personnel," under Manitoba government protocol, the school board said in an emailed statement.

Schools work with parents or guardians to develop health-care plans for children with EpiPens, the statement says. If a student isn't mature enough to carry an EpiPen, an EpiPen for that student is kept in a safe, adult-accessible location in the school.

The school division said EpiPens are only available by prescription, but pharmacist Greg Harochaw at Tache Pharmacy said they are available from a pharmacist without a prescription, although training by the pharmacist is required before an EpiPen can be purchased.

The province said Manitoba's policy doesn't prohibit the installation of EpiPen cabinets, but there are cautions and considerations about installing them.

Those include that EpiPens come in different doses depending on the weight of the person, school division policies usually state medication only be administered to the child with the prescription and other conditions or medications can alter the effects of EpiPens, the province said in an email. Also, plans would have to be made for timely replacement of expired EpiPens.

New Brunswick schools have cabinets

Be Ready Health Care, a New Brunswick company founded by nurse practitioner Kelly Dunfield, has installed EpiPen Cabinets in schools there, with more than 160 cabinets in communities in that province and Nova Scotia, the firm's website says.

Rothesay High School acting principal Andrew Peters said they have an EpiPen cabinet and they haven't simply trained staff how to use the needles – every student in the school has received training.

"It's all positive," he said of community reception of the box.

The school got the cabinet after a young woman died of an allergic reaction the summer before she was supposed to become a student at Rothesay, Peters said.

"It sort of struck home at that point."

Nazarko said while her daughter carries her own EpiPen, she's worried the six-year-old will forget it one day when she needs it.

"Kids lose things, forget things," she said.

An EpiPen cabinet with an alarm would cost about $225 and an EpiPen would cost about $100 and have to be replaced every 12-18 months, Nazarko said.

She plans to lobby her school trustee.

"Hopefully this is something we can make a reality," said Nazarko.

Corrections

  • We initially reported the Winnipeg School Division said a provincial policy requires any medication given to students be administered by a licensed practitioner. In fact, the school division said only medication prescribed by a licensed practitioner will be administered by school personnel.
    Sep 11, 2017 12:36 PM CT

With files from Danelle Cloutier