Access to emergency epinephrine will protect students

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 03:38 PM

Millions of school children in North Carolina and across the country suffer from severe allergies, and for these students, exposure to the wrong food at lunch or an insect bite at recess can cause serious illness and even become fatal.

But as students across North Carolina returned to school this month, their parents’ minds can be a little more at ease knowing that Congress recently passed a bill that will help ensure the safety of their children at school.

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which was signed into law at the end of last year, encourages schools across the country to maintain access to critical, life-saving medication for children with food and other allergies, such as peanuts, latex or an insect sting. I am proud to have joined a coalition of 37 other Senators from both parties in cosponsoring this bill that passed the Senate unanimously.

It is estimated that one in 25 school-aged children has a food allergy, and more than 15 percent of those have experienced an allergic reaction at school. Epinephrine auto-injectors, such as the EpiPen, can mean the difference between life and death in these situations.

Although students with severe allergies are currently 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 auto-injector. In 2001, a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 28 percent of school-aged children who died due to an allergic reaction, died at school where epinephrine was either not administered or was administered too late.

If it weren’t for an attentive school nurse in Charlotte, that could have been the case for Parker Gundy. Pamela Gundy, Parker’s mom, thought he only suffered from seasonal allergies until the day she got a call from the school nurse at Randolph Middle School -- Parker was having trouble breathing and she thought Pamela should come. At the time, the school did not have an EpiPen onsite; but thankfully, the nurse was able to administer a shot of epinephrine. However, if she had not been available to give that critical shot, Parker would have had to wait until an ambulance arrived to receive any treatment. This terrifying and possibly life-threatening scenario can be avoided by having an EpiPen on hand and training school personnel on how to administer them in the critical minutes following an allergic reaction like Parker’s.

This bipartisan bill helps to do just that by rewarding states that require schools to maintain a supply of epinephrine auto-injectors and permit trained, authorized school personnel to administer an epinephrine injection if a student experiences an anaphylactic reaction. Participating states will be granted preference for asthma-related grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, schools will be required to have a plan for having trained personnel to administer epinephrine during hours of operation. This is especially critical to those students like Parker, who are unaware of their allergy.

No parent should have to worry about his or her child’s health and safety at school. I am pleased that at a time of extreme partisanship in Washington, my colleagues put politics aside to pass a commonsense law that will help avoid a preventable tragedy and allow parents and teachers to focus instead on ensuring our kids get the education they need to prepare for challenges that lie ahead.

Kay Hagan is U. S. Senator from North Carolina.