New bill allows epinephrine administration at schools

When a child experiences a severe allergic reaction to something like peanuts or a bee sting, time is of the essence in getting immediate medical attention. Without prompt treatment, a child can quickly stop breathing, go into respiratory or cardiac arrest, and even die.

That was the basis for the new state law P.A. 14-176, An Act Concerning the Storage and Administration of Epinephrine at Public Schools. The law took effect on July 1, and allows trained school employees to administer the life-saving treatment epinephrine for emergency first aid to any students who may experience a severe allergic reaction and were not previously known to have serious allergies.

On Monday, July 21, Gov. Dannel Malloy held a ceremonial bill signing of this new state law at Weston High School. “There were over 300,000 visits to the emergency room in the United States this year because of food allergies, and 1,500 people will die because of them. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen in our schools in this state,” he said as he signed the bill before a cheering crowd.

The new law requires schools to designate and train qualified employees to administer emergency epinephrine in cartridge injectors to any student having a first time allergic reaction when the school nurse is absent or unavailable. It further requires the state Board of Education to adopt regulations concerning the conditions and procedures for the storage and administration of epinephrine by school personnel.

The governor was joined at the bill signing in the Weston High School library by state Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, lawmakers and advocates.

In her introduction of Gov. Malloy, Colleen Palmer, the superintendent of Weston public schools, said she applauded the work of those who advocated for this legislation. “This bill will help safeguard Connecticut students,” she said.

The state education commissioner, Mr. Pryor, said necessary tools needed to be available to trained professionals to handle allergic reactions in students. “This legislation enables that,” he said.

“This law ensures that an emergency won’t turn into a tragedy,” said Helen Jaffe of New Canaan (formerly of Weston), and chairman of the group FARE of CT (Food Allergy Research and Education), which supported the bill.

Lawmakers Kim Fawcett (R-133), John Shaban (R-135), two of the co-sponsers of the bill, expressed gratitude for support for the passage of the new law.

Saving a life

Jamie Kapel of Weston, co-chairman of advocacy for FARE of CT, said she recommended Weston host the bill signing. “It is only a matter of time until this bill saves a life,” she said at the ceremony.

Afterwards, Ms. Kapel explained that her daughter has a severe peanut allergy and carries an epinephrine injector with her to school in case she has an allergic reaction.

However, many children can have unexpected allergic reactions, perhaps for the first time, and are not prepared to handle it, she said.

A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, usually starts with hives, then progresses to difficulty in breathing. If untreated quickly at the onset, it can lead to cardiac arrest and death. “A doctor once told me, it’s like driving off a cliff. You can slam on the brakes, but at a certain point it doesn’t matter,” Ms. Kapel said.

If administered shortly after the onset of an allergic reaction, a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) helps stabilize anaphylaxis.

Ms. Kapel is hopeful that the new law will prevent tragedies, such as the one that claimed the life of a seven-year-old girl in Virginia.

In 2012, Ammaria Johnson, a student at Hopkins Road Elementary School in Dale, Va., died after suffering an allergic reaction after eating a peanut during recess. School officials did not administer medical treatment, claiming they had no specific medications on file for her. The girl suffered cardiac arrest and died at a local hospital.

Experts believe that a shot of epinephrine at the school could have saved Ammaria Johnson’s life.

In a move to encourage schools to increase the availability of epinephrine, in 2013 President Obama signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, offering financial incentives to schools that stock epinephrine.

Step further

The new Connecticut law moves a step further, allowing trained school staff, other than a school nurse, to administer epinephrine to any child suffering from an allergic reaction.

“In Weston, we have very good staff and good policies in place when it comes to the treatment of allergic reactions, but there are other towns in the state that do not even have school nurses, so there is danger, and hopefully this will protect everybody,” Ms. Kapel said.

As a member of the Food Allergy Initiative of Connecticut, a non-profit food allergy awareness group, Stacy Kamisar said she worked closely with Weston school officials 15 years ago to write a food allergy policy for the district.

Each year since then, during staff orientation, the group has given a presentation to new staff members on issues such as how to be food allergy friendly, the dangers of anaphylaxis, and how to use an epinephrine injector.

“It was very fitting that this bill signing was held in Weston because this school district has been at the forefront of addressing food allergies,” Ms. Kamisar said.