In what parents and health organizations called a life-saving measure, Gov. Martin O' Malley signed into a law Tuesday a bill that will require all Maryland schools to maintain an emergency supply of epinephrine in order to respond to a growing trend of severe allergic reactions among school-aged children.
“Receiving a dose of epinephrine in the critical minutes following exposure to a food allergen can mean the difference between life and death,” said Susan Sweitzer, executive director of the Maryland-DC Chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in a statement.
The bill will give schools the authority to administer the hormone in cases of severe allergic reactions. Until now, schools were only allowed to administer epinephrine to students who had a prescription. Under the new law, nurses and other school personnel will be trained in how to administer dosages of the hormone.
“While many students in Maryland public schools already carry epinephrine auto-injectors, or keep a prescribed supply with the teacher or nurse, many others don’t have a prescription or even know that they are allergic to anything."
The law is being hailed by parents and health organizations, who say that food allergies among students are not only on the rise, but also developing and changing at a rapid pace. Epinephrine slows down the effects of allergic reactions--which can kill in minutes--buying critical time as children await first responders and medical care.
And recent high-profile cases of fatal allergic reactions in young children have pointed to the urgency of the problem.
In January, Ammaria Johnson, a first-grader in Richmond, Virgina died in school after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts. The school didn’t have a prescribed dose of epinephrine for her, though it could have saved her life, officials said. Since then, Virginia has also passed a law requiring schools to keep an emergency stock of epinephrine.
Ellen Flynn, of Ellicott City, has watched her four-year-old's mouth swell and struggle for air. She feels lucky that she had an epinephrine at her disposal at home, but wasn't as confident about when her daughter attended public school next year.
“If I had waited for the ambulance to get there, I don’t think she’d be here," Flynn recalled of a recent allergic reaction. "I’m certainly reassured that school systems will be aware of how dangerous food allergies are. This legislation puts schools in a position to react very quickly, and save lives.”
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