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Controversial Diastat Legislation is Back

By Sean P. Farrell - February 17, 2011

The notion that only medically-trained professionals are qualified to administer an emergency epilepsy treatment to students experiencing seizures is once again up for debate in the legislature.

Last year, Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) introduced Senate Bill 1051 that would have allowed a school district the option to train employee volunteers to administer Diastat to pupils suffering from epileptic seizures. Diastat, also known as diazepam rectal gel, is meant to be used in emergency situations to stop cluster seizures.

SB 1051 was one of the most controversial education bills introduced last year and pitted organizations typically aligned on various education and health-related issues against each other. Opposing SB 1051 were groups representing teachers, school nurses, parents and school employee unions.  Supporters included The Epilepsy Foundation, hundreds of parents, county offices of education and school districts.  The California Teachers Association (CTA) argued  that the bill would put the lives of students at risk of injury if non-medical personnel were authorized to administer the drug. Senator Huff  believes that by not enacting legislation to authorize school employees to administer Diastat to students in need actually jeopardizes students’ health.

SB 1051 died in the Appropriations Committee last year, but is back in revitalized form as Senate Bill 161. So what about this bill has changed from last year?

SB 161 would authorize, rather than require, the State Department of Public Health to approve performance standards – a suggestion from Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Also, a new section has been added to the bill that outlines the circumstances when it is necessary for non-medical staff to administer Diastat. The criteria for the use of Diastat by a non-medical professional are as follows:

  1. The pupil’s health care provider must state that the timeframe within which the medication must be administered is less than that in which a properly trained individual could respond.
  2. The delay of treatment could reasonably be expected to result in serious injury or death.
  3. Both the medication and the procedures for administration of the medication are considered to be safe when delivered by competent personnel.

The legislature has just begun to hold policy hearings and it is expected that SB 161 will be acted on sometime in March or April.   Given the veracity of the arguments in favor and in opposition to the bill last year, we fully expect another engaging and contentious battle over this measure.

Editor's Note:  Sean P. Farrell is the Capitol Reporting Intern for EdBrief.