Hillsborough County, Florida -- Hillsborough County Medical Association doctors are deeply concerned about children lives in local and all Florida schools.
A team of four doctors met with Hillsborough County Schools early Tuesday morning to discuss why the district does not allow unprescribed auto-injectors, more commonly known as EpiPens, in its schools. That means, if a child who does not have a diagnosed allergy problem eats something he or she is allergic to or gets stung by a bee and has an allergic reaction, there is nothing at school to save his or her life.
The doctors, including Dr, Martha Price and Dr. Jason Wilson with the HCMA, found out it is not just a problem at Hillsborough but all Florida schools that don't allow unprescribed auto-injectors at school.
"We have a ticking time bomb," said Dr. Jason Wilson. "The bottom line is there is a risk that some child is going to have an anaphylaxis reaction in our school system and there is going to be nothing available to help them and the child is going to die."
Dr. Wilson is an Emergency Medicine Physician at Tampa General Hospital and works with patients often who are suffering from a severe allergic reaction, also known as an anaphylaxis, and he knows how to administer the auto-injector.
"The problem is kids have no idea if they have the allergies to become anaphylaxis," said Dr. Wilson.
He and Dr. Price learned the Florida school districts are following the advice from the State Health Department dating back to October 2012. State attorney Gary Asbell advised the districts of two issues regarding liability with school nurses administering the auto-injector and with wholesale distribution of auto-injector companies donating their products to the school.
Hillsborough Schools called 10 News after the story aired on Tuesday evening and said they recognize the issue and feel their hands are tied because of the state health department's advice, but is looking forward to the policy changing and adding the auto-injectors back into school trauma kits.
In years before the advice from Asbell, the auto-injectors were at the schools. However, they were taken out after the policy changed. They want their students to be safe and have what the tools they need to keep them alive.
"I know from today's [Tuesday's] meeting that Hillsborough County Schools leaders' hearts are in the right place and they want this to change just as much we do," said Dr. Wilson. "I worry very much the attorneys at the state level have tied the hands at the school districts to create a huge liability issue where you are going to end up having unfortunately a dead child and you will be behind federal law and state law when that happens."
State laws state schools are authorized to have the unprescribed auto-injectors, but the districts based their policy decision on the advice of the attorney from the health department.
President Barack Obama, whose daughter also has a peanut allergy, signed into law in November 2013, a year after the attorney's advice was written, an act called School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act which encourages states to adopt laws requiring schools to have on hand "stock" epinephrine auto-injectors.
Dr. Price said 25 percent of students who have a first-time reaction have it at school.
"This needs to change now, otherwise, we will have a dead child as a liability issue," said Dr. Price.
Currently, in Florida schools, if a child has a severe allergic reaction the teacher is supposed to call 911. That is it. The doctors said the schools are not allowed to administer Benadryl either, but it would not matter anyway because Benadryl is not the equivalent of the auto-injector. Benadryl will not save a life like the auto-injector, according to Dr. Price and Dr. Wilson.
"We should have auto-injectors there so we can rescue them immediately while simultaneously we are calling 911," said Dr. Price. "Every second is a life or death second and we cannot afford to wait on 911 to show up."
Pinellas County Schools also confirmed they follow the state health department's advice.