Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, reports the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Food allergies affect one in every 13 children; that’s about two kids in every classroom. A reaction to an allergic food can range from a mild reaction, such as an itchy mouth, to anaphylaxis, which can be deadly.
For those with anaphylaxis, the EpiPen is the first line of dense. The EpiPen contains epinephrine, a drug that can help stop or at least slow down the progression of the allergic reaction. President Obama signed into law a statement that allows schools to have EpiPens available for anyone, even without a prescription.
School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act
According to NBC News, the law that President Obama signed, “provides financial incentives for states to pass laws allowing schools to stock epinephrine and treat children who do not have a prescription for the drug.”
Children who have a prescription for an EpiPen are already allowed to have their EpiPen at school. So why the new law? The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act is intended to benefit those kids who didn’t know they had an allergy. A food allergy can develop at any point in a person’s life, even if they have eaten that food before without problems.
The law also provides schools with incentives to have more trained staff to be readily available during all school hours to administer the EpiPen when needed. The act also gives funding preferences for asthma treatment programs in schools that have an extra supply of EpiPens.
According to the New York Times, 30 states allow schools to keep undesignated epinephrine, but only four states require it. Chicago public schools are one of the places that have undesignated EpiPens and during the 2012-2013 school year, 38 people in the public school system received one of the nonprescription EpiPens.
Out of these 38 people, 21 people did not know they had a allergy. The youngest person that needed one of the nonprescription EpiPens was three years old, the oldest was 19 years old and two people were school staff.
Injecting the EpiPen Without Training: Safety Concerns
According to the EpiPen website, there are safety concerns that one must be aware of before injecting themselves or another person – from stroke that occurs when you inject in the wrong spot, to side effects that cause problems for people with certain health conditions. For example, you should only inject the EpiPen into the person’s outer thigh – don’t put it into a vein (this could cause a cerebral hemorrhage), their buttocks, or their hands, fingers, or toes.
You should use epinephrine with caution if you have heart disease or are taking certain medications. Epinephrine can cause side effects such as increased heart rate, strong or irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, paleness, dizziness, weakness, headache, apprehension, and anxiety.
The EpiPen website also states, “Tell your doctor if you have certain medical conditions such as asthma, depression, thyroid disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, have any other medical conditions, are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Be sure to also tell your doctor all the medicines you take, especially medicines for asthma. If you have certain medical conditions, or take certain medicines, your condition may get worse or you may have longer lasting side effects when you take the EpiPen or EpiPen Jr Auto Injector.”
How does this apply to kids and adults who have an allergic reaction at school when they have no prescription for the EpiPen? Without a doctor’s evaluation, the injection carries risks, but legislators believe that the benefits of immediate treatment outweigh associated risks.
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies have increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. There is no cure for food allergies and no one knows for certain why food allergies are on the rise, but they are. For this reason, the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act could save lives.
Despite the safety concerns, epinephrine is essential in treating anaphylaxis, and according to the FDA’s safety sheet. Schools participating in this program should ensure that all personnel are carefully trained, and have access to the necessary health information for anyone who could be injected with an EpiPen.
CNN News. New EpiPen Law Could Save Lives of Children With Allergies. (2013). Accessed December 3, 2013.
Drugs.com. EpiPen Official FDA information. Accessed December 3, 2013.
EpiPen. Important Safety Information. Accessed December 3, 2013.
Food Allergy Research and Education. Facts and Statistics. Accessed December 3, 2013.
Ghose, Tia. New EpiPen law could save lives of schoolkids with severe allergies. (2013). NBC News. Accessed December 3, 2013.
NY Times. EpiPens for All. (2013). Accessed December 3, 2013.