SRxA’s Word on Health is pleased to start the week with some good news. Last Friday a new federal bill known as the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act was introduced in the Senate. The Bill encourages schools to prevent allergy-related deaths by allowing trained, qualified staff to give an injection of epinephrine to a student suffering from a severe allergic reaction.
The tragic deaths of teenagers in Georgia and Illinois, who did not have immediate access to epinephrine, underscores the importance of immediate treatment and the passage of this legislation. One, a 13-year-old student from Albany Park, IL who had previously suffered from only minor allergies died at her school because of a severe allergic reaction.
Following this, Illinois passed a law that allowed school nurses to administer epinephrine shots to any student suffering from a severe allergic reaction. The new legislation proposed by Illinois Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin would expand the law by allowing all trained and authorized school personnel — not just school nurses — to administer the shot.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) said, “For the millions of children suffering from serious, potentially fatal allergies, the safe and expedient administration of epinephrine can mean the difference between life and death. Something as seemingly harmless as a bee sting during recess or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during lunch can quickly become a tragedy.”
For about 1 in every 13 children, school lunchtime or a classmate’s school birthday party can risk exposure to foods that can cause a severe and life-threatening reaction. For these children, the consequences of exposure to the wrong food can be fatal. However, if epinephrine is available such consequences are preventable.
The legislation would reward states that require schools to maintain a supply of epinephrine auto-injectors, such as EpiPen, and train authorized school personnel to administer an epinephrine injection if a student experiences an anaphylactic reaction. The bill also contains a provision that requires those states to have Good Samaritan laws in place to protect school employees who administer an epinephrine injector to any student believed to be experiencing anaphylaxis.
Although students with severe allergies are allowed to self-administer epinephrine if they have a serious allergic reaction, a quarter of anaphylaxis cases at schools involve young people with no previous allergy who are unlikely to carry a personal epinephrine injector.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan applauded Durbin and Kirk on their push for federal legislation. “Growing numbers of children suffer from life-threatening food allergies,” Madigan said. “In Illinois, we were able to eliminate bureaucratic barriers that previously prevented schools from acting when a child could be suffering from a severe allergic reaction but whose medical records didn’t reflect an allergy diagnosis.”
Word on Health also applauds the introduction of a law that could save children’s lives and raise awareness that in anaphylaxis every second counts. We also hope it will stimulate a wider dialog that could eventually lead to epinephrine autoinjectors becoming available in airports and on airplanes, in restaurants, sports stadiums and other public places…much as automated external defibrillators (AED’s) are today.