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Florida Foster Children Get Too Many Psychotropic Drugs With Too Little Oversight from State DCF

June 1st, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care, Psychotropic

Gabriel Myers (image from Florida DCF)The Florida Department of Children and Families Work Group issued its report on the role psychotropic medications played in the April suicide of Gabriel Myers – and the results were stark and unacceptable.

In the report issued this week, the DCF reported that 2,669 of Florida’s 20,235 foster children under the age of 17 were given one or more psychotropic drugs – with one in six, or about 16 percent, lacking required permissions. Some 73 kids 5 or younger are on the drugs.

Most shocking: Florida passed a law in 2005 requiring parental consent or a judge’s approval before administering psychotropic drugs.

Why is this important? These powerful psychological and mood-altering medications are used to control children’s behavior often in lieu of appropriate behavioral interventions. Many are often prescribed even though there is no FDA approval and there are significant side effects, including depression that could lead to suicide. Thus, they must be administered in appropriate situations where behavioral interventions have been exhausted, with a court order and under the close supervision of prescribing physicians well versed with the individual child’s health and care regimen.

Without such oversight, the results can be devastating. The report found that one in six Florida children 17 and younger are prescribed the medications – including little Gabriel Myers. The 7-year-old foster child had been prescribed Symbyax and Vyvanse, a pair of psychotropic drugs whose use had not been approved in his case by the courts or his parents. He hanged himself in his Margate foster home in April.

The administration of these drugs is rampant and crisscrosses the state. In Broward County, three percent of foster kids on psychotropics didn’t have the necessary approvals. In Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties, 127 kids are on them; just over 2 percent lacked consent or approvals. Even reporting of psychotropic use has led to underreporting of these drugs’ administration. To wit, before Myers’ death drove the DCF to action, the state database of children on the drugs reported fewer than 2,000 cases.

Even the DCF was stymied by the psychotropics’ rampant use. DCF Secretary George Sheldon said he found the findings “inconceivable,” noting there was “no rational basis” fir the some 433 Florida foster children who were given these powerful drugs without court order, parental consent or other necessary permission.

This must stop. Few would contest the use of psychotropics in those situations where a child’s violent outbursts can harm him or herself – or others where behavioral interventions have been exhausted. They’ve been used with care and cause for years. Yet they become “chemical restraints” employed to control kids that caregivers or foster parents find too difficult to handle. Florida law prohibits such use. And such improper administration must stop.

The DCF report is an important first step in controlling this rampant use of psychotropics.

To read the report, Click Here ( http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/admin/GMWorkgroup/docs/PsychMedicationExecSummary.doc )

To visit the Florida Department of Children & Families’ Gabriel Myers Work Group site, Click Here ( http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/admin/GMWorkgroup/index.shtml )

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