U-M food allergy expert supports legislation requiring schools to stock life-saving epinephrine

U-M’s Matthew Greenhawt M.D., M.B.A., M.S.c., testified last week before the state House Committee on Education in support of two bills that would require epinephrine auto-injector devices in every Michigan public school.

The legislation would allow doctors to prescribe epinephrine to school boards and also limit liability. Trained school personnel could then administer the life-saving medication to any student needing it in an allergic emergency (i.e. anaphylaxis). Currently, Michigan students must be diagnosed and have their own prescription to receive epinephrine at school, except by emergency medical services. This is problematic, as 25% of severe allergic reactions at school involve students or staffers who have no known history of food , insect-sting or other potentially fatal allergy.

Testifying on behalf of the Michigan Allergy and Asthma Society, Dr. Greenhawt compared stocking epinephrine auto-injectors to having access to other vital safety devices at school, like fire extinguishers .

“Epinephrine is used more frequently in schools than a fire extinguisher (39 times in 2012-2013 in a single Chicago school district alone), and the cost of maintaining epinephrine is significantly less expensive as well,” said Greenhawt.

“There are several other examples of investment of time and money into emergency preparedness for events that have a low likelihood of happening at school. Yet, we are missing the obvious—that allergic reactions happen with higher frequency, and we have no statewide legislation to protect our vulnerable children.”

According to recent data, an estimated 8% of U.S. school children – potentially as many as two in every classroom – may suffer from a food allergy. There is a proven link between failure to use epinephrine, due to its unavailability or delayed administration, and death from food allergy.

“If a child in Michigan experienced an allergic reaction at school for the first time, and thus did not have his or her own device at the school, without the passage of the proposed bills, epinephrine would not be provided until an ambulance arrived – which in some cases may be too late. That is why passing these bills is so important,” said Dr. Greenhawt.

Currently, 27 other states have laws that either require or permit school districts to stock epinephrine, and four states (including Michigan) have bills under proposal. At the federal level, a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July and introduced in the Senate a few weeks ago encourages states to adopt laws requiring stock epinephrine and provides incentive to states that pass such measures. Michigan H 4352 and H 4353 are currently in committee. Dr. Greenhawt hopes to have another opportunity to voice support for the legislation when it reaches the full state House and Senate.

For more information about Dr. Greenhawt and the team of U-M specialists providing comprehensive care for food allergy patients and their families, visit the U-M Food Allergy Center (FAC).