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UA Research Informs Public Policy on Stock Inhaler Program in Schools

Research by the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health provides evidence that stock inhalers can improve the health and safety of children with asthma at school.

Researchers at  the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health provided expert testimony before the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate Health Committee on the impact of a school-based stock albuterol program for students with asthma.

Researchers at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health provided expert testimony before the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate Health Committee on the impact of a school-based stock albuterol program for students with asthma.

If a child with asthma has an attack at school but has no medication available, Arizona now has a better option for treatment. The Arizona State Legislature passed HB 2208, allowing authorized school staff members to administer asthma medication to students experiencing respiratory distress. Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law on March 24.

The previous law left school administrators with only two options: Call a parent to get the inhaler or send the child to the emergency room. With the passage of this bill, students will receive the medication they need at school and avoid unnecessary health complications due to a delay in receiving asthma treatment.

“This is an exciting example of how academic research can inform public policy. I have been working with schools for the past 20 years and one of the scariest things for school personnel is when a child with asthma has an attack at school but does not have medication available,” said Lynn Gerald, PhD, MSPH, professor of health promotion sciences at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and associate director of clinical research at the UA Asthma and Airways Disease Research Center.

Dr. Gerald provided expert testimony before the Arizona House of Representatives on Feb. 2 and the Senate Health Committee on March 8 on the impact of a school-based stock albuterol program for students with asthma. The program was implemented by her research team in the Sunnyside and Tucson Unified School Districts and the Catholic Dioceses schools of Pima County. Dr. Gerald and colleagues published a report on the program in Sunnyside schools in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Joe Gerald, MD, PhD, associate professor of public health policy at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and a co-author of the study, also provided testimony before the Senate Health Committee in March.

The report indicated a 20-percent decrease in 911 calls and a 40-percent drop in ambulance transports. In Arizona, 174,100 children, or 11 percent of the youth population, have asthma.

A news release issued by the American Lung Association of Arizona outlines the significance of the new law:

"Albuterol inhalers are prescription medication, and HB 2208 allows doctors to prescribe the medication to a school rather than to an individual student. Trained school staff then are able to give the medication to any student experiencing a respiratory episode and send the child back to the classroom with little disruption."

Dr. Lynn Gerald says her research found that 80 percent of children with asthma have no quick relief medication at school. They either forgot it; they can’t afford it; they unexpectedly ran out; or the medication may have expired.

“When children do not have medication, schools usually have to call 911 and the child is at risk for a severe exacerbation. The passage of this bill will allow schools to implement a simple low-cost solution: stock inhalers,” said Dr. Gerald.

Schools can purchase a single inhaler containing a short-acting bronchodilator that can be used for anyone who experiences the sudden onset of cough, shortness-of-breath and chest tightness that signals an asthma attack.

“This is a very important public health solution to a life-threatening problem,” said Dr. Lynn Gerald.

Arizona is the 11th state to pass a law that allows schools to keep a supply of emergency asthma medication on hand.

The University of Arizona