NEW moves are under way to try to loosen the restrictions on the use of life-saving injections for people in danger of dying from a severe allergic reaction to foods like nuts.
Health Minister James Reilly confirmed he was looking at ways of making these adrenaline injections more available for use by trained volunteers – known as first responders – in schools and workplaces.
People who are allergic to certain foods or prescription drugs can die without getting this simple emergency jab that can reverse their symptoms.
The condition, known as anaphylaxis, is a medical emergency that leads to breathing difficulties, facial swelling, a sudden drop in blood pressure and a red skin rash.
Nearly 700 children and adults are admitted to hospital annually suffering from a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to food or prescribed drugs, the most recent figures show.
The need to make these injections more readily available was highlighted in December after the tragic death of teenager Emma Sloan (14), whose mother was refused an adrenaline injection by a chemist because she did not have a prescription.
Emma had mistakenly eaten a peanut-based satay sauce in a Chinese restaurant and had gone into anaphylactic shock.
Now Dr Reilly is looking at widening the availability of the injections, known as an EpiPen. He said: "My department is considering a review of the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003.
"This is in light of a request to pilot a study regarding the administration of adrenaline in the treatment of anaphylaxis by trained anaphylaxis first responders.
"My department is currently examining the legal basis upon which adrenaline can be administered to a patient where the adrenaline has not been prescribed for the patient by a medical practitioner or other prescriber," he said in a parliamentary reply to Sinn Fein TD Gerry Adams.
Volunteers known as first responders could then be trained in the proper technique to use the injections in places like schools, the workplace or shopping centres.
People who are diagnosed with this allergy should always carry the injection kit with them at all times. The needle releases adrenaline when it is jabbed against the outer thigh. They are prescription only under EU law.
The most common causes of anaphylactic shock are peanuts; tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts; sesame seeds; fish; shellfish; dairy products; eggs; soya; wasp or bee stings; natural latex (rubber); penicillin and other drugs.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland is conducting an inquiry into Ms Sloan dying of anaphylaxis in O'Connell Street.
It confirmed there was provision in legislation that permits pharmacists, in emergency circumstances, to supply certain prescription-only medicines without a prescription in Ireland.
It is estimated that around 5pc of children and 3pc of adults have food allergies.
The figures for patients admitted to hospital in 2012 with a diagnosis of anaphylaxis show 357 were under 17, and 332 were older.
The numbers do not take into account those who are treated at home, in GP surgeries or hospital A&E departments.