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Editorial: Protect kids, not lawyers

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It might be a pain in the butt. Literally.

Or a pain in the arm, maybe the hip.

Other than that, the drawbacks to New Mexico’s new law allowing schools to stock the possible life-saving drug epinephrine are few, if any.

The drug is used to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can cause death. Starting July 1, school nurses will be allowed to administer it, as well as albuterol – which is used to treat asthma – to students.

Until the law takes effect, schools can only administer drugs previously prescribed to students. So if a child has a severe attack, he/she currently must wait for emergency responders.

That’s bad enough in Albuquerque, where emergency help can arrive quickly. But in rural parts of the state, where ambulances aren’t nearly as available, it can very well mean the difference between life and death. And according to legislation, 25 percent of students who suffer life-threatening allergic reactions hadn’t been previously diagnosed.

Great law, right? Well, not the original version of the legislation if you’re the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association. A clause in the bill protecting schools from civil lawsuits was removed at the insistence of the lawyers, who fought a similar battle over the Spaceport liability issue. They were wrong on that one, too.

So what’s the worst that can be reasonably expected if a student – appearing to have a severe allergic reaction – gets a shot of epinephrine when it’s not necessary? Other than a quick rush of adrenaline, it’s probably the prick of the needle itself. But it could lead to a lawsuit against a deep-pockets school district.

Conversely, if a nurse is too frightened by a possible lawsuit to administer epinephrine – or a school is intimidated into not stocking it – that, too, could lead to a suit.

The law made perfect sense as it was. It should be fixed to offer school nurses the protections they need to do their jobs. The goal should be to protect kids: not lawyers.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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