President Obama passes major food allergy awareness bill

By Cait McVey, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, November 15, 2013, 5:53 PM EST

President Obama signed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that offers a financial incentive to states if schools stockpile epinephrine, considered the first-line treatment for people with severe allergies.

The medication is administered by injection, through preloaded EpiPens or similar devices.

"This is something that will save children's lives," Obama said, adding that his daughter Malia has a peanut allergy.

After the bill was signed, Bay News 9 contacted a number of Bay area school districts to see if any of them now supply EpiPens, with the recently passed Florida law.

District officials said Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Citrus, Polk and Hernando county schools still leave it up to students to bring in their own.

More than once, 12-year-old Amber Davison has had to use an EpiPen at school to stop a bad reaction to a severe peanut allergy.

"I take it out and stick it in my leg and I hold it for 10 seconds," said Davison.

Davison's allergist Dr. Sami Nallamshetty considers the little girl lucky. Diagnosed years ago, Davison always has her EpiPen with her.

"Just within moments,  within minutes can go from breathing normally to swelling of the throat, swelling of your lips, covered head to toe in hives," said Dr. Nallamshetty. "Time truly is of the essence."

States like Florida that have already passed such a law will also benefit.

“Because we already signed it here in the state of Florida, we’re going to be one of the first states eligible for this incentive,” said Dr. Nallamshetty.

Grant money could help pay for the EpiPens and get them on campuses sooner.

The bill comes after the deaths of two girls in Illinois and Virginia from severe food allergies. The incidents have helped spur efforts to get schools to stockpile emergency medications that can save lives.

"Everything is moving in the direction which adheres to our mission, which is to keep kids safe and included in schools," said John Lehr, the chief executive officer of the Food Allergy Research and Education advocacy organization.

Epinephrine can be used for severe allergic reactions — called anaphylaxis — to food as well as insect bites, latex and medication. Policies vary by school, district and state about the handling of epinephrine and access to high allergy-risk foods. Some schools have lunch tables that are peanut-free, for example.

The epinephrine stockpiling is aimed primarily at children who have previously undiagnosed allergies or as a backup for those with known allergies.

A recent CDC survey found that about 1 in 20 U.S. children had food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s.

The deaths of Katelyn Carlson, 13, in a Chicago school in 2010 and Ammaria Johnson, 7, in a Chesterfield County, Va., school in 2012 raised awareness of the dangers of food allergies. But even before then, a grass-roots group of parents had lobbied school districts, state leaders and Congress for help.