As childhood food allergies rise in prominence in the United States, it becomes increasingly necessary for schools to keep life-saving medication, such as EpiPens, on hand, according to new data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American (AAFA).
Nearly 6 million kids across the U.S. suffer from some variety, or combination, of food allergies, according to one 2011 study. The number is rising, too. Between 1997 and 2007, prevalence rose 18 percent among adolescents under age 18. Luckily, recent data shows schools are responding to the trends. So far this year, 16 more states have begun allowing non-prescription epinephrine to be stocked and administered in their schools, bringing the total number up to 27 states.
In four states — Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, and Virginia — the medication is not only authorized to be stocked, it’s also required.
The most common way to administer epinephrine is through an auto-injector, a spring-loaded pen-shaped device that delivers a single dose of the hormone typically through a person’s leg. The most popular brand of auto-injectors is the EpiPen. Without the immediate delivery of epinephrine, people suffering from an allergic reaction can go into anaphylactic shock and risk possible death. Experts widely believe a girl who died last year as a result of a peanut allergy probably would have lived if her school had had medication immediately available.
"Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for these severe reactions," Dr. Michael Pistiner, a pediatric allergist, told the Associated Press. "Studies show that delays in treatment with epinephrine increase risk of death."
In July, the House of Representatives passed legislation that incentivizes states to adopt pro-stocking laws, offering schools special preference when they apply for asthma-related grants. One of the requirements among schools is they must demonstrate the personnel who will administer the medication is proficiently trained in delivering it. Unfortunately, one expert argues, the majority of states who don’t enact laws authorizing its use opt out because of budgetary issues.
"Typical state laws can otherwise make it impossible for school districts that want to stock to avoid sanctions against dispensing prescription-only medications to an institution rather than a person," according to the AAFA’s senior vice president of public policy and advocacy, Charlotte Collins.
Collins added that all states with authorization laws included some form of legal protection for those administering the drug.
Oftentimes, the personnel giving students the drug are operating under intense emergency, as the difference between a mild reaction and life-threatening hospitalization can be decided by a matter of minutes. With a full quarter of anaphylaxis cases occurring in students who have never received an allergy diagnosis, the call for immediate care is urgent.
Tennessee-native Tammy Edwards, alongside her 12-year-old son, Tyler, have lobbied for legislation in their home state, as Tyler’s food allergies require him to carry an auto-injector to school with him each day. Tammy expressed to the AP her plea for public empathy.
"It's hard for some people to understand that one little peanut ... could take a life,” she said.