updated 3/30/2005 2:18:02 PM ET 2005-03-30T19:18:02

Schools would be encouraged to allow asthmatic schoolchildren to carry and administer their own medication under a bill passed by Congress and sent to the president for his signature.

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The bill, approved by the Senate Monday evening before it recessed for the election, urges states to pass “right-to-carry” legislation and directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to give preferences to states with such laws when he awards grants for asthma-related programs.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who sponsored the measure with Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Mass., said when the bill passed the House last week that the drug zero-tolerance movement had “the unintended consequence of depriving students of immediate access to their prescribed medication.”

In many states, students are required to keep inhalers and other medication either with their teachers or at the nurse’s office.

Kennedy described it as “a life-and-death issue” where “those of us who have asthma, like myself, know very well it can come on you very quickly, and if you do not have your medication available, you can have a much worse time of it.”

The bill noted that in 2001, 20 million Americans had asthma, including 6.3 million were children. That was up from 6.7 Americans with asthma in 1980.

Asthma was the most common cause of missed school days, accounting for approximately 14 million missed school days annually.

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