Illinois moves to make it easier for schools to get asthma inhalers

Illinois schools will now more easily be able to get life-saving asthma inhalers to keep on-hand in case a student is struggling to breathe.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that Director Dr. Sameer Vohra has signed a standing order allowing Illinois schools to more easily obtain asthma inhalers that can be administered to anyone on-site who is experiencing respiratory distress. The medication can only be administered by school personnel who’ve gone through training.

Illinois first passed a law in 2018 that allowed schools to keep inhalers on-hand in case a student or staff member without their own inhaler needed it. But until now, if a school wanted an asthma inhaler to keep on-hand for anyone — as opposed to for a specific student with a prescription — it had to find a local physician willing to issue a standing order for the school. The new standing order covers schools statewide.

Vohra said in a news release that the statewide order “removes the last hurdle” schools faced in obtaining inhalers for use in emergencies.

“As a pediatrician, I have witnessed how important access to albuterol inhalers can be to save lives,” Vohra said in the release. “Inhalers and medications like albuterol are essential treatments to treat severe asthma attacks in students diagnosed with asthma but also in individuals who may not even know they have it.”

Already, many Illinois schools have put inhalers obtained through other standing orders to good use. Between October and February of this school year, 126 Illinois schools in 96 school districts reported administering the on-hand medication to students in respiratory distress, with the students ranging in age from 5 to 17, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – MidStates Chapter.

The chapter runs a program called Rescue Illinois Schools, in partnership with the Respiratory Health Association, that gives inhalers with albuterol to schools and trains staff on how to administer them, among other things. Illinois appropriated $2.4 million for the program for fiscal year 2023, and the program is now rolling out in about 78% of Illinois schools, said Chris Martinez, CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – MidStates Chapter.

Now with the standing order, he said: “We won’t have to get physicians to write those prescriptions, it’s in place, and not only is it in place, but it’s in place from an authority that has the opportunity to communicate it to schools.”

The standing order will remain in place through February and be reviewed and updated annually, according to the state health department.

State law also allows Illinois schools to keep supplies of epinephrine, used to treat severe allergic reactions, and opioid antagonists, used to treat opioid overdoses, on-hand. The state also has a standing order for opioid antagonists in schools.