North Carolina lawmakers are reconsidering a bill that could help children with life-threatening food or insect allergies. The act would require each school in North Carolina to store emergency epinephrine injectors on hand – medicine that many parents and doctors say could help save a child’s life. You can listen to the full report below.
Kendra Montgomery-Blinn remembers the day she discovered her child’s deadly allergy to peanuts. It was four years ago. She and her son, Marco – who was three at the time – were making bird feeders. They used pine cones, bird seeds and peanut butter.
That’s when Marco’s eyes started swelling and puffing up. He had been around peanut butter before – even used to eat it – but never had a reaction like this. He survived the episode and two other accidental exposures since, but his mom, Montgomery-Blinn, says she still gets nervous – especially when she sends him to school.
"If another kid got messy with their peanut butter and jelly sandwich that they packed for lunch, and then they went on the swing before my son and touched the swings... and my son then came and sat on that same swing and put his hands in mouth – as 7-year-olds often do – he could die," she said.
Montgomery-Blinn shared her son’s story in a room full of legislators at the Education Oversight Committee on Tuesday.
She, along with many other parents and advocates, are pushing a bill that passed in the house last year but got stalled in the Senate.
The legislation would require schools to store emergency epinephrine injectors called EpiPens, medicine that would help quickly treat a severe allergic reaction.
"Many children with deadly allergies do not have an EpiPens at school, maybe they’re not diagnosed with the allergy yet. Maybe it’s the first time they get a bee sting at recess or the first time they eat a cashew during a project at class," Montgomery-Blinn said.
It may sound far-fetched that a single cashew could be deadly, but it’s not unheard of. Advocates say that two years ago, a 7-year-old girl in Virginia died after her friend gave her a peanut during recess – a 14-year-old boy in New York died after eating trail mix that wasn’t properly labeled – and another teenager in Georgia died after snacking on nuts during an afterschool program. In all of those cases, they say the children were not treated quickly enough and the schools did not have EpiPens on hand.
Studies show that about 4 to 6 percent of kids in the U.S. have severe allergic reactions.
"Among these, 16 to 18 percent experience a reaction at school, they’re unable to schedule their reactions at home when their parents who are vigilant are able to treat them appropriately," says Ben Wright, a pediatric allergy and immunology fellow at Duke.
Wright says that between 2005 and 2012, the number of kids who received EpiPen injections during school increased by more than 60 percent.
Right now, parents can give teachers EpiPens if their children have prescriptions. But schools are not allowed to keep extras on hand.
Under the proposed bill, every public school will have at least two EpiPens and personnel trained to handle them.
Groups like the North Carolina Pediatrics Society and the Association of School Nurses support the legislation.
Plenty of lawmakers support it too. But a few raised questions, like Republican representative Craig Horn.
"I’m trying to get a gauge on the budget impact, because there will be a budget impact if this bill passes in the short session in the Senate," he said at the legislative meeting Tuesday.
Democratic Representative Rick Glazier responded saying that the costs will be very minimal. He helped draft the bill and says that the EpiPen manufacturer would provide free pens to each public school. There’s also a new federal law that allows states to seek grants for EpiPens.
North Carolina is one of five states without an EpiPen law that’s pending or on the books.
"This is totally extraordinarily important preventative health bill and will save lives of children in school," Glazier says.
Kendra Montgomery-Blinn says the bill is not meant for her son or children like him. Her son always has an EpiPen around – there’s a total of six for him at his school. She says the bill is for kids who don’t yet have a diagnosis – the ones who will have their first severe allergic reaction at school.
"Now what’s really great about North Carolina is that we haven’t had a child die in our schools, so this bill is not named after a child," she says. "This bill is a preventative bill and hopefully we’ll get it passed before we ever have a child to name it after and it will save lives."
Senate leaders have not yet said whether they’ll vote on the measure when they reconvene in May.