Public schools in North Carolina will have to keep emergency allergy injections on campus at all times under the state budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law Thursday.
The provision requires K-12 schools keep at least two epinephrine autoinjectors, the best known of which are EpiPens, on hand. It also requires principals to designate at least one person at the school to receive annual training on how to use them and recognize allergic reactions. But the budget does not provide funding for schools to buy the autoinjectors, which cost about $100 each.
Instead, lawmakers are relying on pharmaceutical companies to supply them for free.
The EpiPens would cost the state $250,000 annually, said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville who sponsored the original bill that was incorporated into the budget. Glazier said schools are able to receive four free EpiPens per year through Mylan Specialties and Bioridge Pharma.
Both public and private K-12 schools qualify for the free program, but they will need a prescription from a doctor to send in with their application, according to Bioridge Pharma’s customer service.
But many schools don’t yet know about the free program.
At a Wake County school board meeting Tuesday, the school system’s chief business officer, David Neter, said the cost for Wake to supply its 170 schools would be $42,500.
The law’s effective date is Nov. 1, and Lisa Luten, communications director for the Wake County school district, said the county’s school nurses are investigating the free distribution program. They are awaiting more information from the Department of Public Instruction before moving forward, she said.
Chrissy Pearson, communications director for Durham Public Schools, also said it is too early for the district to know how the law will have to be implemented and that officials will await more direction and coordination with the state’s health departments.
The free distribution program, called EpiPen4Schools, allows kindergartens, elementary and middle schools to receive free EpiPens each year. The EpiPens contain adrenaline and are the first line of emergency treatment for anaphylaxis, an extremely severe allergic reaction that can be fatal.
The program is especially intended for students who may not know they have an allergy.
The EpiPen4Schools program removes a large portion of the cost burden from states and schools, said Jennifer Jobrack, national director of advocacy for the Food and Allergy Research and Education (FARE) group.
Many states allow schools to keep undesignated epinephrine, meaning they can administer it to children without a prescription. Only four other states – Illinois, Kentucky, Washington and Virginia – have laws similar to North Carolina’s.
“I am convinced that this law will save lives,” Jobrack said.
Advocacy groups such as FARE provide information to help train teachers to use the devices and recognize an allergic reaction, removing another financial burden for school districts.
“The device and training being available free of charge takes two huge costs out of the equation,” Jobrack said. “Hopefully that will be the case in North Carolina.”
Glazier also said there is another potential benefit to come from the new state mandate.
“The law now qualifies our schools as well for federal grant funds under the federal EpiPen law,” Glazier said.
President Barack Obama signed a federal incentive for epinephrine autoinjector requirements, the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Law, in November 2013. The law rewards states that have their own mandate by giving them priority for federal health funding.