A First-Person Perspective: Lobbying Efforts for Increased EpiPen Accessibility in New York


Lucia Zaremba, Contributing Writer

In late August of 2018, Poly sixth grader John Zaremba enjoyed one of his favorite summer rituals; a big steak and a Yankee game with his dad. He expected the next day to be one of the fun, relaxing summer days he had grown to love.  


Instead, Zaremba woke up the next morning struggling to breathe and experiencing what he explained as “the scariest moment of my life.” He had gone into anaphylactic shock in reaction to that steak, even though he had eaten it the previous night. This unusual allergic reaction came in response to a tick bite he had gotten weeks before, which caused a rare condition in him called Alpha-gal syndrome. Essentially, the bite from weeks before had caused a temporary allergic condition where eating red meat would trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction twelve hours after he ate it. He didn’t know he had this condition; to be fair, most people have never heard of this rare allergy. Luckily, Zaremba’s mother had an EpiPen, and quickly injected it before the ambulance arrived, saving his life. 


An EpiPen —Epinephrine injection — is a medical device for emergency treatment of severe allergic reactions. According to MedlinePlus, if not treated within 15 minutes, an allergic reaction can lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 13 American children have a food allergy. 


“An EpiPen literally saved my life. Sometimes, I just wonder what would happen if I didn’t have [an EpiPen],” said Zaremba. Although Zaremba was lucky enough to have an EpiPen nearby, others with severe allergies around the state of New York are not always provided the same comfort. 


New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes is working to change that after I approached him with my brother’s story. Gounardes recently proposed a bill requiring EpiPens to be accessible in public places of assembly, and to have at least one employee who is trained in its use. I had the privilege to work alongside Gounardes in this process. The bill was formally introduced in the first week of January, when the NY State Assembly was called back into session. It was then referred to the Health Committee, where it currently resides. If it leaves the committee, it will be voted on by the floor. If passed, the bill will be delivered to the governor. The governor then decides to sign or veto the bill. 


I had the chance to speak with Tyler Adams, a legal representative of Senator Gounardes, on the issue. “Ensuring everybody across the state can have access to EpiPens is really so crucial,” she said. Although she said the bill should be easily passed because it’s “common sense,” Adams predicts strong opposition. Specifically, she believes that some legislators will push back against the bill and argue that it imposes a financial restriction or adds cost to the operators of the public spaces. 


“Usually whenever we see any legislation that does enact a program…there is usually the argument brought up in opposition that it puts an undue burden on the public places,” said Adams.


Although the bill faces some challenges, Gounardes and his team remain hopeful that it will pass. If passed, this bill will bring change to places like Poly. It will require EpiPens to be accessible around campus. As of right now, Poly students with allergies have to bring their own EpiPen to school, and are given the option of keeping one in the nurse’s office. Poly currently has a Food Allergy Action Plan in which students’ physicians fill out a form detailing a student’s allergies and their treatment plan in the case of an allergic reaction. According to Food Safety News, only 12 states currently require schools to have EpiPens, but many states (including New York) allow schools to keep them on hand. In 2013, the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act was signed into federal law, allowing schools to “maintain supplies of undesignated epinephrine,” according to the act.