Schools not being compelled to stock life-saving medicines
WATERLOO REGION — It frustrates Marty Kings that schools won’t stock and use medication that might save his diabetic granddaughter Grace in an emergency.
A former teacher and school principal, he castigates the education system as a bureaucracy that resists change until tragedy forces it.
“Is someone going to have to die before we deal with this?” said Kings.
“My consistent experience in education was that unless there’s a real problem, unless something manifests itself in a very, very distinct way, we’re going to let it go until we really have to make a change.”
His criticism resonates beyond concern for Grace, a Grade 2 student in Kitchener.
Ontario schools have been slow to embrace emergency medication that might save students.
Glucagon is a hormone to restore blood sugar, injected to save a diabetic in an emergency.
Unlike some other provinces, Ontario refuses to compel school staff to inject it.
Local schools are to call 911 and wait for paramedics.
Naloxone is a medication that by injection or nasal spray temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose of an opioid drug such as fentanyl or heroin.
Local schools don’t stock it, but instead call 911 and wait for paramedics.
Advocates claim both medications are easy to store and use, with minimal or no side effects if wrongly administered.
Teachers say they don’t want to be blamed if an emergency goes wrong.
It’s why some teachers look to the government to compel intervention and absolve them of liability, their unions say.
“When it comes to administering medicine in an emergency, even the best of intentions to assist can sometimes not result in a positive health outcome,” Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a statement.
“Our members are more likely to come forward for training where there is provincial legislation in place to protect them from liability such as with Ryan’s Law or Sabrina’s Law.”
Hammond said teachers want to keep students safe and “it is up to the school boards and principal to stock appropriate emergency kits and train assigned staff to use them.”
“It’s always concerning for teachers when it comes to administration of any medication, because we’re not medical practitioners,” said Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
She said teachers have become familiar with asthma and allergy medications, but other medications are different and “there is a sense of unease” about teachers being asked to administer more of them.
“We used to have school nurses. Maybe the time has come to make sure that we have access to those resources within our schools,” Stuart said.
Ontario has enacted two laws on emergency medication in schools. Both followed tragedies.
Ryan’s Law compels schools to let asthmatic students carry inhalers, authorizes staff to administer medication, and absolves them of liability. It followed the death of a 12-year-old asthmatic boy whose school would not let him carry his inhaler.
Sabrina’s Law compels schools to train staff about dealing with life-threatening allergies, allows schools to store anti-allergy injectors and to use them, and absolves staff of liability. It followed the death of a 13-year-old girl who suffered an allergic attack after lunch in a high school cafeteria.
The Liberal government has not pledged legislation on glucagon. It has issued mixed messages while refusing to compel schools to administer the medication.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter called for consistency across school boards but her ministry points to a patchwork, saying support for diabetic students will vary “based on a range of factors, including their needs, their capacity for self-management, and the school board’s policies.”
Public school trustee Cindy Watson wants emergency naloxone kits stocked in rural schools and in high schools, with staff trained to use them. It’s under review by the Waterloo Region District School Board.
“We’ve been told that it would take four minutes for police to show up. That’s a long four minutes to watch somebody overdose,” she said.
Catholic schools don’t stock naloxone kits, but have said they are researching the issue.
Watson would welcome naloxone legislation but knows legislation is a slow process and argues that schools should develop protocols to administer the medication. “The wheels of democracy move very slowly,” she said.
The education ministry says it’s up to school boards to decide on providing naloxone and some have obtained naloxone kits.