As a parent of three young children, I understand the uncertainty that can come when your kids are settling into a new school year. One thing parents should not have to fear is their child eating or coming in contact with something dangerous.
Unfortunately, for nearly 6 million school-aged children, that something could be common foods like peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat, soy, eggs and the list goes on. The numbers of children with food allergies are on the rise with recent estimates putting it as high as one in 13.
Allergic reactions can include hives, digestive issues or, most seriously, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis killed more than 1,500 people in the United States last year. If a reaction occurs, epinephrine medication, administered by an epinephrine auto-injector, can literally be a life-saver.
An epinephrine auto-injector sends adrenaline into a victim's system to slow down the allergic reaction, providing emergency personnel time to provide treatment. Because children exposed to a potential food allergy need immediate medical attention, epinephrine injectors are a vital life-saving tool.
Pennsylvania has made significant strides in recent years. For instance, the school code contains a provision I authored in 2010 that allows students, with parent and physician approval, to bring epinephrine medication to school. However, there is work to be done.
I recently introduced legislation that would require all schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, because a delay of a few minutes can make the difference between life and death. Now under consideration in the Senate Education Committee, Senate Bill 898 would also require any individual responsible for administering the medication to complete training regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. All schools would have to have at least one trained person on staff.
Although many Western Pennsylvania schools already stock this medication, my goal is to bring all schools up to the same standard because student safety must be the highest priority.
Pennsylvania must take this next step because so many instances of severe allergic reactions in children occur for the first time in a school setting. Recent studies have indicated that 24 percent of severe allergic reactions occurred in children with no prior history of life-threatening allergies. This means that a first allergy attack could be fatal, either through swelling that shuts off airways or through a significant drop in blood pressure. Students who have not been diagnosed with a food allergy should be as protected as those who have been previously diagnosed.
We take for granted that automated external defibrillators will be available in virtually all public settings, including our schools and youth sporting venues. These vital medical devices, more complex than an epinephrine auto-injector, are appropriately available for anyone who has a history of heart problems or may have a sudden cardiac incident. Epinephrine auto-injectors should be just as easily accessible, particularly in support of vulnerable children.
Twenty-eight states have passed laws allowing schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for general use. S.B. 898 currently has 14 co-sponsors -- 11 Democrats and three Republicans. I hope this bipartisan support will compel the Senate to act quickly on this bill. This is an issue on which Democrats and Republicans can work together to help assure the safety of our children.
Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, represents the 37th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.