Hoyer, Roe Op-ed: Emergency Epinephrine in Schools Will Save Lives

For Immediate Release:

May 21, 2012

Wanted to be sure you saw this op-ed by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Phil Roe in The Hill about how requiring schools to stock epinephrine can save students' lives. To read the op-ed, click here or see below.

Emergency Epinephrine in schools will save lives

By Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Phil Roe

Recently, Virginia passed a law requiring schools to stock epinephrine and authorizing school staff to administer it to any child believed to be suffering an anaphylactic reaction. Known as “Amarria’s Law,” the bill was inspired by an incident in January in which first-grader Amarria Johnson died after an anaphylactic reaction to eating a peanut. Sadly, Amarria’s death was entirely preventable, but her school did not have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand to save her life. 

Today, only two states – Nebraska and Virginia – have laws requiring schools to stock epinephrine. In a country where six million children live with food allergies, we ought to have a national strategy to make sure life-saving epinephrine is available in our schools.

There are no Republican or Democratic solutions to this problem, only a human solution based in compassion and common sense. That’s why we have partnered to introduce H.R. 3627, the “School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act,” to encourage states to adopt the policy enacted recently in Virginia following Amarria’s tragic death. Identical legislation was put forward in the Senate by Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk.

Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, a systemic allergic reaction that often includes severe swelling of the tongue and throat that can result in death from asphyxiation or a severe drop in blood pressure. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommends treating anaphylaxis with an injection of epinephrine immediately after symptoms begin. There is no time to wait for help, even for an ambulance to arrive, as delays in the administration of epinephrine can result in death within minutes. Just as many schools are now stocking emergency defibrillators, emergency epinephrine should be available to save lives.

On average, there are two children with food allergies in every classroom, and more than 15% of school-age children with food allergies have had a reaction in school. Additionally, it is estimated that 25% of anaphylaxis cases in schools involve individuals with a previously unknown allergy. Schools must be prepared to save the lives of children who have never had such reactions and do not possess their own epinephrine prescriptions. It only takes witnessing one traumatic allergic reaction – the image of a child’s face swelling beyond recognition, the vomiting, gasping for air, turning blue, or passing out – to reach the quick conclusion that each of us would want someone to administer epinephrine and to do so promptly.

Epinephrine is safe and easy to administer. No hypodermic needle. No vial. No measuring. It is dispensed in a preset dosage through an “auto-injector,” which contains a spring-loaded needle that is enclosed before use and automatically retracts afterward. Very young children are taught to give themselves these injections, and any adult working in a school can be taught to administer one safely to a child. Numerous organizations like the National School Boards Association, the National Association of School Nurses, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network have all recommended that schools stock epinephrine to be prepared for these emergencies.

Both of us had the opportunity to spend time with Amarria’s mother, Laura Pendleton, last week. That meeting was a powerful reminder of the dangers of food allergies and anaphylaxis. Witnessing the pain she and her have undergone, we are determined to see the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act passed into law. We will continue working together across the aisle to reduce the chances of having to tell a parent that her child suffered a deadly allergic reaction and that the school did not have the medication on hand to save her.

Rep. Hoyer (D-Md.) is the Democratic Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Roe (R-Tenn.) is a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

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