Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2208 into law on March 24, allowing trained school staff to administer asthma medication to any child in an emergency situation, regardless if the child is known to have asthma or not.
“The previous law was written so that only school nurses could give students the proper asthma medication, and not all schools have a nurse on staff and in their building at all times,” said Julie Reid, executive director of the American Lung Association in Arizona. “If students forgot their inhaler at home, experience an asthma episode while at school and there is not a nearby nurse, the school’s only options are to call a parent to go and get the inhaler or send the child to the emergency room. With the passage of this bill, though, students will receive the medication they need at school and avoid unnecessary health complications due to a delay in receiving asthma treatment.”
Albuterol inhalers are prescription medication, and HB 2208 allows doctors to prescribe the medication to a school rather than to an individual student. Trained school staff are then able to give the medication to any student experiencing a respiratory episode and send the child back to the classroom with little disruption.
“When students can’t get albuterol right away, the episode is probably not going to resolve on its own,” said Lynn Gerald, associate director for clinical research at the Asthma and Airways Disease Research Center and Canyon Ranch Endowed Chair and professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. “Without access to albuterol, the episode may last longer and the child may have to go to the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital and will miss school for a few days or even a week. However, with this new law, students will be able to go to a trained staff member, take a few puffs from the inhaler and then likely return to class within 20 minutes. This provision will reduce the amount of class time students miss due to asthma.”
The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) recently piloted a stock inhaler program, and it’s helped avoid costly emergency and hospital services and decreased time away from school for the students and work for the parents. Becky Zahn, a pediatric nurse in TUSD, said that with stock inhalers in the school she’s been able to stabilize students experiencing an asthma episode instead of sending them home, calling a parent or ordering an ambulance. Asthma is one of the main reasons students miss school and many students discover they have asthma because of an episode that happened while at school. The Sunnyside Unified School District also implemented a policy for stock inhalers and saw a 20 percent decrease in 911 calls and a 40 percent drop in ambulance transports. In Arizona, 174,100 children, 11 percent of the youth population, have asthma.
“We know that asthma is a leading cause of missed school days in Arizona and most other states,” Zahn said. “To have this life saving medication available to immediately treat children in distress is so reassuring to the child and the family. Because we can use one inhaler for many children with the use of individual spacers, it is extremely cost effective. We can now continue to keep children at school and treat them while we help the family find resources to provide the care they need.”