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Stocking Epinephrine in Schools Might Save Lives

Advocates say one in four allergic reactions happens for the first time on school grounds

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For reasons not understood, food allergies are on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of food allergy in children increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

About one in 13 U.S. children -- or about two in every classroom -- has at least one allergy, according to the nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research & Education. The most common cause of severe reactions is peanuts. But other foods -- such as dairy products, sesame, cashews, pecans and walnuts -- can do the same.

Last October, the CDC issued voluntary food-allergy guidelines for schools. The recommendations included encouraging schools to educate staff and parents about food allergies, minimizing the presence of certain foods in classrooms to reduce the risk of accidental exposure, and ensuring that children with food allergies can participate in classroom activities.

Currently, 26 states permit schools to stock epinephrine for use in any child who needs it. Only five states -- Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Virginia -- require schools to stock epinephrine, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

That leaves 19 states that have no such legislation.

The federal legislation gives states that require schools to stock epinephrine preference for receiving asthma education grants. Also, state and federal legislation empowers school personnel to take action to save a life.

"We would like to see state legislatures require [schools to stock epinephrine]," said John Lehr, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education. "We understand that each state and locality needs to make its own budgeting decisions, but we believe that having stock epinephrine in the schools will save lives."

"All of the [epinephrine pens] are easy to learn to use and safe, even if accidentally given to someone without a food allergy or [someone who is] not having a food-allergy reaction," Stukus said. "It's adrenaline, which we all have in our bodies."

"What we're trying to cover with this [legislation] are those children who slip through the cracks and don't have an EpiPen at the school for whatever reason, or those children who have their first reaction to a food while at school," Stukus said.

Denny, whose son is now a healthy and active 7-year-old, agreed. "If the nurse has to wait until the ambulance arrives, by then it may be too late," she said.

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