A life-saving dose of epinephrine — commonly dispensed in an “EpiPen” — could prevent allergy fatalities in schools, and a push is underway to ensure that the measure is not legally barred.
However, the legal status of epinephrine in school varies so much that many facilities don’t stock EpiPens. Many experts believe continuing this practice is a recipe for disaster.
Childhood food allergies and dangerous reactions are on the rise, and a severe episode can become rapidly fatal. Additionally, factors including non-allergic children whose parents may be unaware of dangers create an environment in which children suffering a serious allergy to common foods like peanuts could become ill and die before help arrives.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American (AAFA) now argues that EpiPens need to be on hand in schools to enable the administration of epinephrine and possibly save lives, as as many as six million American children and adolescents suffer from an allergy — many of whom who attend school.
In a ten year period, allergy diagnosis rose nearly 20 percent. And while the reasons remain unclear, the knowledge that a fatal allergic reaction could be so easily treated has prompted a renewed call to allow epinephrine doses to be on hand in schools.
Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, and Virginia require epinephrine EpiPens to be on hand, but the other 46 states have no laws — creating a murky legal conundrum for schools, who must assume legal responsibility whether the medication is stocked or not in their district.
Dr. Michael Pistiner, a pediatric allergist, explains that time is of the essence when epinephrine is used, saying:
“Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for these severe reactions… Studies show that delays in treatment with epinephrine increase risk of death.”
Charlotte Collins of the AAFA explains the quandary in which schools find themselves on the epinephrine issue — at risk of losing a child, or opening the door for questionably legal action:
“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.”
While epinephrine or EpiPen use does carry risk, Collins explains that those who administer it are often legally protected due to the urgent need during a severe allergic reaction.