Obama Signs Bill to Increase EpiPen Availability in Schools
President Barack Obama signed legislation Wednesday aimed at increasing the availability of epinephrine in schools, saying the law will help people like his daughter,Malia, who suffers from a peanut allergy.
The medicine can help prevent adverse reactions and death in children with severe food allergies.
The law, which took two years to move through Congress, comes after two students — one in Illinois and one in Virginia — died after ingesting peanuts and suffering an anaphylactic reaction while at school. The law provides an incentive to states to boost the stockpile of epinephrine at schools.
“This is something that will save children’s lives,” Mr. Obama said at a ceremony to sign the bill, adding that “some people may know that Malia actually has a peanut allergy.” Mr. Obama said making sure so-called EpiPens are available in case of emergency in schools “is something that every parent can understand.” (Video of the event is here.)
Rather than require schools to stockpile EpiPens, the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Law provides a financial incentive. States that require schools maintain a supply of the medication and permit trained school personnel to administer it will get preference for receiving federal children’s asthma-treatment grants. A similar preference has been in existence since 2004 for states that allow students to self-administer medication to treat asthma and anaphylaxis.
Only four states currently require schools to stock epinephrine, including Nebraska, Virginia, Maryland and Nevada, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education advocacy group. About 20 other states allow schools to stock the medication but don’t explicitly require they do so. Advocates for the bill say the law will provide a carrot for states to go a step further and mandate schools stock the medication.
“I think anytime the House, Senate and president all say this is something we should do, we should stock epinephrine in schools, I think this will reopen the debate among those states that have already passed, but haven’t mandated it,” said John Lehr, CEO of the Food Allergy Research & Education organization.
Last year, a 7-year-old girl at Hopkins Road Elementary school in Chesterfield County, Va., died after eating a peanut on the playground. She did not have an EpiPen at school. In 2010, a 13-year old girl died after eating food that had been ordered in for a school event and contained peanut oil.
The following year, Illinois passed a law allowing – but not requiring — schools to maintain a supply of epinephrine on site and to have school nurses to administer the medication to any student suffering a severe allergic reaction. A few months later, Illinois’ U.S. senators, Richard Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican, introduced the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act to encourage states to go beyond simply allowing schools to stockpile the medication.
The bill languished for more than a year, despite bipartisan support and as an array of backers pushing for its passage, including doctors’ and nurses’ associations, advocacy groups and country-music star Trace Adkins and his daughter, who has severe food allergies. The bill’s fate was hung up on liability issues, as critics contended the legislation – as written – would set a dangerous precedence for so-called “Good Samaritan” laws. The legislation was tweaked to require state attorneys general to certify a state has reviewed any applicable civil liability protection laws and has concluded it provides protection “to such trained personnel” who administer the medication.
After the signing ceremony, Mr. Obama watched Rob Nichols, one of FARE’s board of trustees and the president of the Financial Services Forum, demonstrate a new high-tech epinephrine auto-injector, which talks people through administering the medication.