FeaturesDec/Jan 2014 Issue

All About Epinephrine: A Life-Saver for Celiac School Kids

Advocacy for Access


In 2012, 7-year-old Amarria Johnson wasn’t as lucky. After eating a peanut on the school playground in Richmond, Virginia, Amarria started experiencing shortness of breath and hives. She asked a teacher for help and was taken to the school clinic. But because the school didn’t have an epinephrine auto-injector prescribed for her, the staff could only call 911. By the time emergency responders took Amarria to the hospital, it was too late for the little girl.

Chicago teen Katelyn Carlson suffered a similar fate. In December 2010, Katelyn had an anaphylactic reaction after unknowingly ingesting peanut at a school party. The school gave her Benadryl, called 911 and rushed her to the hospital. The seventh grader died shortly afterward.

It’s likely that both reactions could have been halted with the prompt injection of epinephrine, the medication used to treat anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to food, insect bites or stings, medication, latex or other allergens. Such tragic deaths have been a rallying call for advocates to push for local and national legislation to improve access to epinephrine in schools.

This year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, a federal bill that encourages all states to allow schools to stock emergency epinephrine. The Senate is now considering the bill (S. 1053). The proposed legislation encourages states to adopt laws requiring schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors that can be used for any student or staff member in an anaphylactic emergency, even if those individuals don’t have a prescription for the drug. About 30 states now have laws or guidelines allowing schools to stock undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors, with four states requiring it. A handful of other states are working toward getting legislation approved.

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) collaborated with members of Congress to introduce the federal bill, worked to gain additional sponsors on Capitol Hill and encouraged members of the food allergy community to urge lawmakers to support the legislation, says John Lehr, CEO of FARE.

“One way to help protect students with food allergies is to expand the availability of lifesaving epinephrine in schools,” Lehr says. “No student should die in school because an epinephrine auto-injector is not available.”

Illinois began the push for legislation that would improve access to epinephrine in schools after Katelyn Carlson’s death. Previously, Donohue and other Illinois school nurses were permitted to use epinephrine auto-injectors only on students with previously diagnosed allergies who had prescriptions on file for epinephrine. If a student did not have a prescription, the nurse could not administer epinephrine, even if the student was going into anaphylactic shock before her eyes. In August 2011, Illinois passed the Emergency Epinephrine Act, which permits schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors and allows school nurses to administer epinephrine to any student the nurse believes is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction.

Next: Saving Lives

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