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Foster Kids on Mind-Altering Drugs?

The whole imposing edifice of modern medicine, for all its breathtaking successes, is,
like the celebrated Tower of Pisa, slightly off balance.
It is frightening how dependent on drugs we are all becoming
and how easy it is for doctors to prescribe them as the universal panacea for our ills.

- Prince Charles

Photo source: migraine-facts.co.uk

by Mandi Bishop

Why would a child as young as 3 years old be on mind-altering drugs?  For the past 8 months, the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters poured through reams of state documents and discovered thousands of foster kids appear to be on powerful psychotropic drugs.  Many were barely in kindergarten.  Some were mere toddlers.  "We didn't even know he was in the hospital until he called us from Laurel Ridge himself," a woman referred to as "Magdalana" told them.  (They disguise her name in order to protect the identity of her 6-year-old grandson.)  She said her grandson was confined to a psychiatric hospital following a temper tantrum after which he called his grandmother for help.  "I mean he was like," Magdalana describes, "maybe you could say he looked more like a zombie."

Trouble Shooter Tanji Patton asked, "How could you tell by looking at him that he was on medication?"  Magdalana answered, "His attitude, his eyes, his way of speech.  All that."  Magdalana said a nurse confirmed her fears -her grandchild was on 2 different psychotropic or mind-altering drugs, plus benadryl to help him sleep.  As it turns out, Magdalana's grandchild wasn't alone.  A sampling of state records released by the State Comptroller's office shows 2 of 3 foster children in Texas appear to be on psychotropic meds.  The Medicaid prescription records from November of last year show that many kids are taking 2 or more drugs.

At the risk of losing her job, a Child Protective Services worker spoke to Trouble Shooters following a hearing by State Representative Carlos Uresti last month.  She spoke of one child on 17 different medications.  "I think he had 3 - 4 psychotropic medications in addition to Depakote, Zoloft, and Trazadone to help him sleep."  Some of these drugs the FDA states are not safe for children.  "He did need medications," she continued, "but I had concerns about how could any child could require 17 different prescriptions."

Perhaps more alarming, advocates say, are the ages of the kids.  Trouble Shooters obtained a never-before-released study tracking ages of foster kids on drugs during a 1-month period of time.  At least 300 of the children were under the age of 7.

Tanji Patton recently asked President and CEO of the Children's Shelter in San Antonio, Jack Downey, "How big a problem do you think this is?"  Downey replied,  "Far larger than you or I or anyone else suspects."  A longtime advocate for children, he says his heart aches when he talks about the cases.  He shared a story of one family he remembered in particular.  "We had a wonderful family of 5 boys.  If they walked in right now you'd love them."  The oldest was 10, the youngest 3.  "We were directed by the state to take the boys to a psychiatrist," he said.  "We did and they all came back on 3 meds.  Those boys no more needed meds than I did."  Patton prompted, "Every child?"  Downey replied, "Every child."  Why would a 3-year-old need psychotropic medications?  "I have no idea.  He was just the jolliest little kid," Downey reminisced.

Who prescribes these meds?  You might think psychiatrists, but after poring through thousands of documents, Trouble Shooters found that was frequently not the case - many were family practitioners.  State records show one of the biggest prescribers in San Antonio was a radiologist - legal, but what would a radiologist know of a child's mental health?  Trouble Shooters also found some doctors had documented drug problems of their own.  One such was Dr Charles Sargent, San Antonio psychiatrist, listed as one of the state's top prescribers of antidepressants to kids on Medicaid.  Records obtained showed he also prescribed stimulants and powerful antipsychotics.  But the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners put Dr Sargent on probation in recent months because, state records show, he had prescribed narcotics to himself, his girlfriend and her son.  As part of his probation, he must submit to random drug testing.  He declined a request for an on-camera interview, but spoke by phone to say that the anti-depressants he prescribed had FDA approval for kids.  He did not return a call questioning his suspension

Another frequent prescriber on state records was Benny Fernandez, medical director at Laurel Ridge Psychiatric Hospital.  Fernandez said his practice was primarily treating foster kids.  He maintained that psychotropics were necessary for many of the children.  "I think the way we are moving now is using them as a last resort if we can," he told Tanji Patton.  Patton asked, "When more than 60% in a 1-month period [were put] on medications, do you think it's being used as a last resort?"  Fernandez replied, "Well, those numbers seem a little bit high."  When asked if he thought too many kids have been put on medications, he said, "I wish those numbers would go down and that's what we need to focus our energy and efforts in making sure that the medications, when they are used, are used appropriately and there's a careful diagnostic evaluation."

That's not what many former foster kids say happened to them.  Chris Brown remembered, "I was on a number of different medications."  Marie Garcia recalled the pills she took, "Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Depakote."  Ken Coleman said, "I was on 7 different medications at once."

While Texas is just beginning to deal with this controversy, Florida began tackling the issue years ago.  Child advocates there have been trying to get laws passed to protect children from being over-medicated.  So far, they haven't been successful.  They blame doctors and pharmaceutical companies who lobby against them.  "We don't deal with the problems these kids have, we give them a pill," says Dr Tony Appel, a neuropsychologist and child advocate.  She looked at the Texas records the Texas Trouble Shooters team had uncovered.

Tanji Patton asked, "Does it look like these kids are being treated for behaviour control or for mental illness?"  Dr Appel replied, "I don't think they're treating mental illness, not in these kids."  Tanji interjected, "Psychiatrists and people on the other side will say 'these are sick kids.  I mean these are kids who've been sexually abused - they need medication.'"  Dr Appel spoke emphatically, "Being sexually abused makes you a victim.  It doesn't make you sick."  What does she think the drugs are doing to children?  "We're taking away their future.  We're taking away their ability to relate to people; trust, love caring, ability to put yourself in the other person's shoes and see how they see you.  We take all that away from these children.  We blunt their emotion."

Most experts agree that some children absolutely need medication, but all say Child Protective Service, doctors and caregivers need to be more careful when deciding whether to use those medications.  Comptroller Carroll Keeton Strayhorn first brought this issue to the attention of state authorities this spring.  Governor Perry declined to speak about the situation, saying the state is investigating CPS as a whole and cannot comment until the investigation is completed.

Source: woai.com  11 November 2004

Unfortunately, this problem has been around a long time and won't disappear anytime soon...

Report Says California Foster and Group Home Children Are Routinely Drugged

Drugs are a bet with your mind.

- Jim Morrison

Offer hugs, not drugs.

- Adina Lebowitz

Los Angeles - Thousands of children in California's group and foster homes are being given mood-altering medications, many of which have never been tested for use on children, a newspaper reported Sunday.  The Los Angeles Times said children are being drugged in combinations and dosages that psychiatric medication experts believe are risky and may cause irreparable harm.  The drugs are sometimes given as "chemical straightjackets," just to keep children obedient and docile for their overburdened caretakers, according to the newspaper, which reviewed court files and prescription records, observed group homes and interviewed judges, attorneys and child welfare workers and doctors.

No foster children in California are known to have died from excessive or improper medications.  But child advocates believe prescription drugs may have been involved in some cases where death was blamed on unexplained heart arrhythmia or other organ failures.  Other children have suffered drug-induced psychoses, hallucinations, abnormal heart activity, uncontrollable tremors, liver problems and loss of bowel control, according to health professionals, attorneys and court records.

Child welfare officials said they don't know how many of the state's 100,000 foster children are taking the medications, in part because of lack of oversight.  Dependency court judges in Los Angeles County, which has nearly half the state's foster children, approved requests last year for more than 400 doctors to medicate more than 4,500 children.  But a county grand jury found that nearly half the group home children it examined were drugged without court or parental consent.

John Tobin, Los Angeles County's mental health coordinator, said the sheer number of doctors treating children makes quality control nearly impossible.  The problem is not exclusive to Los Angeles County, according to experts statewide.  "We sometimes don't know who put kids on drugs and why," said Nathan Nishimoto, an Orange County Department of Children and Family Services official.

At the Orangewood Children's Home in Orange County, children as young as 3 have access to the drug cart where they can take medications that control their "depression" and "rage."  Many psychiatrists defend the use of these medications, saying the benefits of using them outweigh future risks of harm.

"The doctors don't have time to make an assessment.  The fastest thing is to use chemical straitjackets on the kids - and some of them probably need it," said Stephen M Stahl, a University of California at San Diego professor who teaches psychopharmacology.  "You're forced to use drugs because the group homes are understaffed and they're unnatural environments."

Source: NandoTimes 18 May 1998 © Nando.net and the Associated Press

What about prisons?  Is it okay to drug prisoners to the point that they actually enjoy their stay?  Or is a prison supposed to have a certain element of punishment attached?  I haven't felt punishment was the best option in the past (for dogs or kids, anyway).

I'd prefer not to lose compassion.

I read an interesting article on NandoTimes on 12 March 2000 written by David Crary.  It was entitled Parents of Teens Walk Fine Line between Perception, Privacy.  I learned that in 30 states, parents can be held responsible for crimes committed by their children.  Some parents have come to feel that their children may "no longer be very good kids" and they don't wish to be held responsible for their children's misdeeds.  Consequently, some parents have begun utilising at-home drug tests, spying on their children's email, and searching their rooms.  Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organisation, offers tips to parents on how to search a teenager's room if they suspect drug use ("Search the room section by section from top to bottom").  The group's website also advises parents to preview their teens' video rentals and music purchases.

What this group and those parents don't seem to understand is that these measures treat the symptoms, not the problems.  When these teens get old enough to leave home, they will burst forth from their confinement to try all those forbidden things at a terrifying clip.  (I know this as I had a very strict, snoopy mother and that's exactly what I did.  I'm lucky to have survived.)

A better way, it seems to me, is to help the teen select the best course of action through a realistic understanding and acceptance of the consequences.  Of course, for them to believe what you say requires that you and your children spend a bit of time together talking so that a measure of trust can be built up.  Time, unfortunately, is what is usually in very short supply.  So pills are substituted.  How sad.  Why even have kids if you don't have the time or inclination to raise them humanely (with empathy and love)?

Chewable Valium?

Click to play

Source: joe-ks.com

These Days

Sir - Recent history suggests that a wife in the workplace rarely means a husband at home.  Two income families are becoming the norm, and parental responsibilities are increasingly shuffled over to schools or day-care centres.  Increasingly, government is moving into areas that used to be the responsibility of parents.  Schools are offering breakfast and lunch, and are teaching moral values.  The nanny state takes another step forward.

Jim Dalghety
Springfield, Virginia

Source: The Economist 9 October 1999

See also:

bulletThese Are the Times That Bind - Where both parents worked, a typical day would start before dawn to get the children ready and drop them at day-care.  The parents would then spend a long day at work before collecting the children from a 10-hour stint, doing shopping on the way home, feeding everybody, putting the laundry in the washing machine, cleaning up the mess, reading the children a bedtime story and heading for bed themselves, utterly worn out.  And these were the days when nothing went wrong...
bulletPet the Kid - The problem of unsupervised children and youths is likely to get worse in the future.  Today, typically, there's only one parent, and she's not home.  And now, neither is the dog...
bulletDon't Be So Hyper! - Pushing pills in schools is big business...

The challenges of raising children are compounded in single-parent and two-earner households where parents have little time to spend with their offspring.  Michael Brody, a child and adult psychiatrist from Potomac, MD says, "Parents are just not available - they're involved in their own games and interests.  They're preoccupied with the stock market.  (The stock market?)  Brody, who raised two sons, scoffs at the notion that so-called quality time can compensate for an overall paucity of parent-child contact.  "It's such a joke," he said.  "Try to run a business on just quality time.  It doesn't work, and it doesn't work with raising children."

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