New law lets more school workers use emergency injection on students

Trained school employees and volunteers will be allowed to administer an emergency epinephrine injection if they believe a student or visitor is having an allergic reaction under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The legislation expands on a 2011 law that allowed school nurses to give the drug to any student believed to be having a life-threatening allergic reaction, even if the child had not been diagnosed with an allergy.

“We want to make sure we do everything in our schools to protect the good health of our students,” said Quinn, surrounded by parents, students and health advocates.

That 2011 law also removed a restriction that prevented schools from keeping epinephrine in stock. It was inspired in part by the death a year earlier of Katelyn Carlson, a seventh-grader who went into a severe allergic reaction after eating food cooked in peanut oil during a school party at Edison Regional Gifted Center in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.

The girl did not receive an injection of epinephrine, often known by the brand name EpiPen, a hormone that can counter severe allergic reactions by opening airways, improving blood circulation and reducing swelling.

At the time, state law prohibited school officials from dispensing the drug unless it had been prescribed to a student by a physician, supplied by a parent and listed on the student's medical plan.

At the press conference Wednesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said that at least 25 percent of first-time allergic reactions occur in schools, not all of which have nurses on staff.

“Everyday parents send their children — many of whom have known food allergies and many who have unknown food allergies — to school and out into the world,” Madigan said. “That gives you a sense of how important it is to have epinephrine in schools.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 25 children have at least one food allergy, and the number is increasing.

The law, which goes into effect August 1, also sets curriculum requirements to train school personnel and allows students to carry and administer their own epinephrine injections with parental consent, according to Quinn's office.