Bill would let schools give emergency diabetes injection
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What is Glucagon?

Glucagon is a hormone, available by prescription. It is used to treat people with diabetes when their blood glucose levels drop dangerously low and they cannot swallow food or liquid - they may be having a seizure or losing consciousness. It comes in an emergency kit and is administered by injection.

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Natalie Rodgers fears school policies could prevent her 6-year-old daughter and other diabetic children from receiving a lifesaving injection.

The Kearns woman has enlisted the help of state Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, who is sponsoring a bill that would allow trained adults to administer glucagon to children who take insulin and are losing consciousness. Glucagon is a hormone that raises blood sugar levels, staving off diabetic comas and even death.

Rodgers, Arent and health experts believe trained volunteers at Utah schools should be able to give the injections, which do not need to go in a vein. But students are currently forbidden from bringing almost all medications to school, with the exception of asthma inhalers.

"The thing that's great about it is it's hard to do wrong," said Rodgers, who spoke at an Education Interim Committee at the Capitol on Thursday. "There's no risk of overdose; it's a hormone that your body stores naturally. If you gave it to someone who doesn't have diabetes, it wouldn't hurt them."

People who have diabetes do not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. While the cause of diabetes is unknown, experts believe genetics and environmental factors, such as obesity and lack of exercise, play roles.

Nationwide, more than 18 million people - including a growing number of children - have diabetes, and many are unaware they have it. In Utah, about 4,000 children and teens under 20 - roughly .37 percent of all Utah youth - have diabetes, according to the Utah Department of Health. In 1991, the number of youth with diabetes was 1,800.

Rodgers' daughter, Andrea, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in 2003 at the young age of 3.

"I have friends who have used glucagon on their children," Rodgers said. "We kindly refer to it as the Heimlich maneuver for diabetics. Normally, I wouldn't let my child go anywhere where she doesn't have glucagon available. It's a lifesaver for her."

Mary Murray, an endocrinologist and director of the diabetes program at Primary Children's Medical Center, beseeched the committee to endorse the legislation, which it did unanimously. Lawmakers will consider the bill when the legislative session begins in January.

Murray has treated patients who could have been helped by glucagon.

"Glucagon is safe and easy to administer," she said. "It can be given to a normal individual by accident, and the worst that will happen is nausea or vomiting."

Under the bill, children would get a prescription for the emergency kit from their doctors and carry it with them in their backpacks. School personnel trained in administering the medication would be shielded from lawsuits or criminal charges if they gave the injections in good faith.

"I don't want to have a situation where we have kids die when we can save them," Arent said.

chamilton@ sltrib.com