CLEVELAND, OH — Today, during a press conference at George Washington Carver School, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced the passage of a new Federal law that will protect American children with severe allergic reactions. President Obama signed into law last week the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, bipartisan legislation that gives priority federal funding to states that require schools to maintain a supply of epinephrine without a prescription for any student that may experience life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that our children are safe and can receive the treatment they need if they suffer a life threatening, allergic reaction at school,” Brown said. “This new law incentivizes states to take the important steps necessary to ensuring epinephrine is available for students in case of an emergency, even if they don’t have a prescription or a known allergy.” 

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction, causing a severe, rapid, and whole-body response. Exposure to any allergen can cause anaphylactic shock, but the most common are food, insect stings, and medications. Asthmatics and those with seasonal allergies are also at risk. The most dangerous aspects of the reaction are impaired breathing from swelling of the throat; and low blood pressure, which starves the brain, organs, and heart of oxygen. Epinephrine is a life-saving treatment for anaphylaxis that should be given immediately after symptoms begin. It is both safe and metabolized quickly. 

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act seeks to protect children by giving states a preference for federal asthma-related grants if those states require public elementary and secondary schools to:

  • Maintain a supply of epinephrine injectors, called EpiPens;
  • Allow trained school personnel to administer an epinephrine injector to a student having an anaphylactic reaction;
  • Have a plan for having trained school personnel to administer epinephrine on the premises of the school during hours of operation; and
  • Require the State Attorney General to certify that applicable civil liability laws have been reviewed and are adequate.

Current Ohio law only allows schools to keep an EpiPen for students with a known allergy and a prescription written specifically for them. But a quarter of severe allergic reactions at schools involve kids with undiagnosed allergies. In Ohio, educators, administrators, and “Good Samaritans” cannot use an EpiPen in the event of an emergency unless the student needing treatment has a prescription, even if that student is having a life-threatening allergic reaction. Allergic reactions, like anaphylactic shock, can occur within minutes of exposure to any allergen. One in 13 children has food allergies—an average of two children in every classroom. 

That is why Brown today outlined his support for Ohio House Bill 296, which would allow Ohio schools to keep undesignated EpiPens on hand for students regardless of whether they have known or undiagnosed allergies. But Brown also urged Gov. Kasich and the Ohio Statehouse to take further action, since the Ohio bill would only give incentives to schools that maintain a supply of epinephrine. The federal law signed last week provides priority federal funding to states that ensure all schools maintain a supply of epinephrine without a prescription.

“I support this Ohio bill because it moves our state in the right direction,” Brown said. “But I urge Gov. Kasich and the Ohio Statehouse to do more. Schools should not just be allowed to maintain a supply of epinephrine for students without a prescription or known allergy. They should ensure emergency measures for extreme allergic reactions. It could save lives and better assure the well-being of our school children.” 

Joining Brown to raise awareness of this issue was Kate King, the President of the Ohio School Nurses Association (OSNA).

“Once an infrequent occurrence, anaphylaxis has increased dramatically,” King said. “Approximately 25 percent of students who experience anaphylaxis were not previously diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy. School staff must not only be aware but also prepared to prevent or respond to an anaphylactic reaction to be effective in supporting a student with a life-threatening emergency. If a child who does not have a prescribed epinephrine auto injector has an anaphylactic reaction at school, the school nurse often has to choose between using another child’s epinephrine injector, which is illegal, or waiting for EMS which could result in the death of a child.”

Also joining Brown to discuss how important these measures would be was Cuyahoga County mother Ann Norman, from Westlake. Norman didn’t realize her six-month-old son had food allergies until she found herself in an ambulance with him after he had eaten baby food that triggered an allergic reaction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that food allergies account for more than 300,000 emergency room visits each year, and as many as 150 to 200 deaths annually. Ten percent of American children have asthma and about 0.5 percent of children will have an anaphylactic reaction to insect stings. The largest numbers of episodes are in children and adolescents. 

The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act is endorsed by the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE); American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI); American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM); and National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).