Legal glitch blocks access to life-saving allergy injections
A life-saving measure, which could prevent the deaths of young people who suffer a potentially fatal allergic reaction to foods such as peanuts, cannot be rolled out because of gaps in the law.
Two experts appealed to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday to support their campaign to be allowed to make adrenaline auto-injectors more available in universities and third-level colleges to provide the emergency treatment needed.
Dr Michael Byrne, head of the student health department in University College Cork (UCC), and Prof Jonathan Hourihane, head of the department of paediatrics and child health, said the adrenaline auto-injectors – also known as epinephrine – act quickly to treat the allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
At the moment it is available on prescription only – but a campaign has been launched to make it non-prescription.
"We very rarely see cases of near-death anaphylaxis in the student health premises," Dr Byrne said.
"We have done so, however, and in my eight years in UCC, we have definitely saved at least one life in our emergency treatment room through the administration of adrenaline.
"Therein lies the problem, however, because there will be many more anaphylaxis episodes, which will occur when someone is not in our premises, it will occur when someone is in the library, on the running track or in one of our eating places.
"It will occur at night, and at weekends. This is a high-risk, vulnerable population. We believe we have an innovative, safe and effective means of reducing that risk, and we ask the committee's support to make this happen."
He said speed was the key when it came to treating anaphylaxis and he would like to do a pilot making it more widely available and administered by trained first responders.
The college has 16,000 students and 2,800 staff. Around 320 students on campus have a known or suspected food allergy at any one time and this could translate into as many as 10 potential serious student allergic reactions each year with a further two staff members at risk as well, he added.
There has to be a change in legislation to allow the measure be piloted, he said.
The need for speed was underlined in Dublin recently when teenager Emma Sloan died on O'Connell Street after eating peanut sauce. She did not have an injector with her and her mother, Caroline, was unable to secure it in a chemist shop without a prescription.
Mrs Sloan is now waging a campaign to have the injectors made more widely available.
Health Minister James Reilly said his department was examining the matter.