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Law allows schools to stock, use epinephrine for allergy attacks

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PHOENIX – Allowing schools to stock and administer general-use, injectable epinephrine will save lives when students go into anaphylaxis from previously undiagnosed allergies, a state lawmaker says.

“We can develop an anaphylactic food allergy at any time in our life, so it’s important to have these available,” said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, who authored a new law offering schools that flexibility.

The law allows schools to receive prescriptions for general-use epinephrine. As long as staffs are properly trained, schools are immune to liability when administering epinephrine to a student experiencing anaphylaxis.

Should the Legislature eventually provide the funding to do so, districts and charter schools would be required to stock two child doses and two adult doses of auto-injectable epinephrine at each school. For now, doing so is optional.

An auto-injectable epinephrine device, the most common of which is the brand EpiPen, delivers a dose of adrenaline to reverse the effects of anaphylaxis from an allergic reaction to food or to insect bites or stings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of anaphylaxis reactions in schools occur among students who haven’t been previously diagnosed with a food allergy.

“The whole premise of this is to protect and save the lives of children,” said Lisa Horne, president and founder of the Arizona Food Allergy Alliance, which partnered with Lopez to draft the legislation.

The law is based on one enacted by Virginia last year following the death of a first-grader who had an allergic reaction to a peanut on the playground and didn’t receive epinephrine in time to save her life.

In Virginia and Nebraska, it is mandatory for schools to stock general-use epinephrine, and Horne said more than 20 states give schools the option of stocking the auto-injectors.

A similar bill, dubbed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, won approval from the U.S. House of Representatives in July and is in committee in the Senate.

Arizona’s law requires the State Board of Education to develop auto-injector procedures for schools by Jan. 1.

Chris Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government affairs for the Arizona Department of Education, said the Board of Education will make a budget request next legislative session to make auto-injectors mandatory at schools. For now, schools wanting to stock them must purchase the medication themselves and train their staffs.

“One person on campus has to be able to utilize the epinephrine device, and then all of the staff must be trained to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis,” he said.

Horne said that about two kids in every Arizona classroom have a food allergy, and for many of them the allergy is anaphylactic in nature.

“It can take their life in minutes. Every second counts,” she said. “They need to have epinephrine in the schools. They can’t wait for 911 and hope that they arrive in time.”