Health & Wellness

Oct 25, 2013 11:43 AM by Lindsey Gordon (

Law puts life-saving epinephrine into hands of Montana school nurses

HELENA - More states are passing legislation that allows schools to stock epinephrine autoinjectors, or EpiPens, including a law passed last session in Montana.

Passed unanimously, SB 165 gives protection for those schools who choose to stock and administer EpiPens to combat anaphylaxis.

"We know that eight percent of school-aged children have food allergies and in Montana that would translate to about 11-thousand students who might be at risk for anaphylaxis," said Sue Buswell, a retired school nurse for the Helena School District and now with the Montana Association of School Nurses.

While the stocks of autoinjectors are meant for extreme cases, students with known allergies should be carrying their own, but sometimes forget, or others have a first-time reaction."

"Twenty to 25-percent of all epinephrine is used for an individual who had a previously unknown food allergy," adds Buswell.

In Helena schools, they've stocked EpiPens for the last twelve years. Now the new law, which went into effect July 1, 2013, states a doctor must prescribe the auto-injectors to the school.

Julie Chaffee, the nurse at Helena High School, said she's administered the drug three times in her six years there.

She remembers one instance where a bee stung a student when she had to administer epinephrine: "His face was swelled up and he was blue around the lips...within minutes, the swelling went down, his color came back, it was incredible."

But in Helena, like in most schools in Montana, they don't have a full time nurse at most schools, so the nurses are charged with the task of teaching administration and staff the relatively simple steps to administer the drug.

"We try to give our educators the tools they need to help and keep our students safe," said Kendra Selser, R.N., who splits her time between C.R. Anderson Middle School and Kessler School.

In Helena, the response time for medics is short, but not so in more rural area... and in extreme cases when a child, or staff member experiences anaphylaxis, mere minutes could be the difference between life or death.

Buswell said that there is a source where schools are able to obtain EpiPens to stock in schools at no cost to the district.


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