Emergency epinephrine is needed in our schools

Over the coming weeks, students across the country will start preparing for the upcoming school year, looking forward to reuniting with friends, meeting their teachers and tackling new lessons. But for the nearly 6 million children in our country who have food allergies, school can be an unnecessarily frightening place. A tiny amount of an allergen or an innocently swapped snack at lunchtime could become life-threatening with the sudden onset of an anaphylactic reaction. School should be a place where children grow, learn and gain confidence in themselves — not worry every day about a potentially deadly allergic reaction.

That’s why, in May, we reintroduced H.R. 2094, the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. Our bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by 17 Democrats and 14 Republicans, will encourage states to adopt policies requiring life-saving epinephrine to be available in schools and authorizing trained school staff to administer it in the event of an emergency. And it will give children and their parents the peace of mind that our schools are equipped with the first and best line of defense against anaphylaxis.

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Epinephrine can stop the deadly swelling of the throat and tongue that occurs during an anaphylactic reaction and maintain normal blood pressure. But when epinephrine is needed, minutes matter: By the time an ambulance is called and paramedics arrive, it can be too late.

Like emergency defibrillators, which are increasingly being kept at the ready in schools, epinephrine should always be on hand for those moments when it is needed to save the life of a child.

With a quarter of anaphylaxis cases in schools occurring in students without previous knowledge of a food allergy — and who are not prepared by having medicine at the ready — having epinephrine available at school makes all the difference. Epinephrine auto-injectors are safe and easy to use. In fact, young children with known food allergies are taught how to administer them on their own in case there are no adults around when the telltale symptoms of anaphylaxis appear.

While some states have already taken steps to ensure that every school maintains a supply of epinephrine and has staff authorized and trained to use it, we should to have a national strategy to protect children with food allergies from anaphylaxis. Organizations like the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the National School Boards Association and Food Allergy Research & Education all support storing epinephrine in schools as a means of preventing unnecessary deaths. With an average of two children per classroom suffering from food allergies, it is important to make sure all our schools are prepared, and Congress has the power to help.

We are encouraged that the Committee on Energy and Commerce will be marking up our bill Wednesday, the first step toward its consideration by the full House. Important, life-saving legislation like ours is exactly the kind that ought to sail through Congress with bipartisan support. Keeping children safe in school is an issue that transcends party and the politics of the day.

We will continue working to advance our bill through the House in the coming weeks, and we expect a companion bill to be introduced in the Senate as well. For the sake of those children who walk into school worried about what might happen if they are exposed to an allergen — and those who might not know they are at risk of a dangerous allergic reaction — we hope Congress will act quickly to provide children and their parents with the peace of mind that life-saving help in an emergency is not minutes but mere seconds away.

Hoyer has represented Maryland’s 5th congressional district in the House of Representatives since 1981. He is the Democratic whip. Roe, an M.D., has represented Tennessee’s 1st congressional district since 2009. He serves on the Education and the Workforce and the Veterans Affairs committees.