There’s good news for parents of asthmatic children in Ontario. Students in the province now have a legal right to carry their inhaler medication on them after a new law passed on April 30. Previously, it was up to school boards or the schools themselves to decide if students could carry inhalers or if the medication had to be kept with a teacher or in the school office.
The legislation was named “Ryan’s Law” for 12-year-old Ryan Gibbons, who died from an asthma attack he had during recess in 2012. The policy at Ryan’s school at the time was that inhalers needed to be kept in the office because they’re a prescribed medication. Ryan was on his way to the office for his inhaler but didn’t get there in time.
Rescue inhalers are considered life-saving medication: when a person is having an asthma attack, the muscles around their airways tighten. The medication in the inhaler opens up the airway and allows them to breathe. “There’s no question that symptoms can escalate within minutes,” says Susan Waserman, an allergist at McMaster University and the chair of the Asthma Society of Canada’s medical and scientific committee. “Asthma causes 250 deaths a year in this country.”
Waserman applauds Ontario’s new law. “Quick treatment means students can have relief immediately. It just makes more sense,” she says.
Noah Farber, director of communications and government relations for the Asthma Society of Canada, says that there’s no consistency across Canada in terms of whether students can keep their inhalers on them—Ontario is now the only province with an asthma-specific law. “The policies are mostly set at the school board level, or, in some cases, even by the individual school,” he says.
Farber notes that the Asthma Society of Canada is putting together a recommendation for what a standard school asthma policy should look like, including allowing students to carry their medication, which the organization will use to advocate to other provinces.