Tuesday, Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law legislation that didn’t get much attention but may be considered, among many parents of allergic children, a long overdue regulation.
The new law requires schools to establish policies regarding the use and availability of epinephrine, an emergency treatment for allergic reactions.
Its passage is part of a larger movement to recognize the growing danger that allergies pose to children, one that got a tragic jolt earlier this year from a little Virginia girl who died after sharing a snack with a friend in the schoolyard.
Seven-year-old Amarria Johnson reacted immediately to the peanut she ate at her Chesterfield County elementary school in January. She sought help from school officials, who aided her but had no epinephrine or EpiPen injector, when she stopped breathing.
Amarria’s mother, Laura Pendleton, has said she had previously alerted the school to her daughter’s allergies, but the school didn’t stock an EpiPen, which might have saved the girl.
Last month, Virginia passed a law requiring schools to keep EpiPen on hand — legislation called “Amarria’s Law.”
Food allergies have been on the rise across the country and advocates have warned that tragedies like Amarria’s death are an increasing danger.
Close to 8 percent of children in the U.S. have food allergies, according to the most comprehensive study to date on the subject. Of those, close to 40 percent have severe reactions researchers said in the survey published in January in the journal Pediatrics.
Allergy advocates say schools have been slow to accept the dangers of allergic reactions and few have policies related to emergency responses or treatment. Just last week, many of those advocates, including Pendleton, came to Capitol Hill to lobby for national legislation.
“Witnessing the pain she [has] undergone, we are determined to see the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act passed into law,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn) wrote on a blog for the Hill after meeting with Pendleton.
The two have introduced legislation that would provide incentives for states to enact EpiPen laws.
“There are no Republican or Democratic solutions to this problem, only a human solution based in compassion and common sense,” the two wrote.
Currently, Maryland joins at least seven other states that have some regulation regarding schools and EpiPens according to the Fairfax-based Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
But most of these laws are rather spotty — the Maryland law mandates only school boards come up with a policy.
Worse, they are coming too late. A sad fact about the laws that do exist is that Amarria’s Law is not the only one named for a child, a child who did not live to see the passage.