President Barack Obama signed a measure Wednesday that will provide financial incentives to states that enable schools to stock emergency epinephrine devices, which are used to treat allergic reactions to food.
Upon signing the bill, H.R. 2094, Obama revealed that his own daughter Malia suffers from a peanut allergy.
"This is something that will save children's lives," Obama said in a release. "And, thanks to the bipartisan work of the folks behind us and the advocacy communities that have been pushing this so hard, we're going to be giving states a lot more incentives to make sure that that happens."
In order to receive the additional funding to stock the schools with the medicine, the schools must not only maintain the epinephrine devices, known as EpiPens, on the school premises, but must also have trained personnel at the schools who can administer the medication.
Several states have already passed legislation regulating epinephrine use or are in the process of doing so. In Michigan, state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons proposed a law that would require all public schools to stock two EpiPens by next year, and have at least two staff members trained to use them. Under her proposal, doctors and pharmacies could also prescribe the devices to school districts.
EpiPens could be particularly useful in case a child's food allergy is not known.
Sarah Denny, a pediatrician from Ohio, told NBC News, her son Liam had a severe allergic reaction after drinking soy milk one morning. Liam had previously been diagnosed with other food allergies, but had never previously had an issue with soy milk.
Nevertheless, he began coughing and vomiting before falling unconscious. Denny and her husband were able to use an EpiPen she had with her to save her son before he arrived at the emergency room.
"If we had not had the auto-injector at home, I do not think he would have survived," Denny told NBC.
Sometimes, food allergies can cause people to go into anaphylaxis, a serious immune reaction to allergies that often times results in death. It has a rapid onset and causes airways to close, heart rates to rise and blood pressure to drop. The primary treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine.
"We are thrilled to see this legislation signed by President Obama and thank him for bringing national attention to the need to protect students with food allergies," said John Lehr, chief executive officer of Food Allergy Research & Education, at the bill signing ceremony. "It is our hope that this legislation serves as the catalyst for states to recognize the need to not just allow schools to stock epinephrine, but to require this important medication be available to our students and empower school personnel to save lives."