PSYCHDRUGS ACTION CAMPAIGN NEEDS YOUR HELP
The PsychDrugs Action Campaign is an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), one of the leading organizations in the nation seeking to better the lives and outcomes of children in foster care.
The organization has a web site dedicated to The PsychDrugs Action Campaign. As the organization explains it, “The PsychDrugs Action Campaign works collaboratively with former foster youth, their advocates and state agencies to implement better regulation of psychotropic medication for foster children and to develop greater access to alternative supports for healing.”
On April 14th, four bills will be heard before the Health and Human Services Committee of the California State Legislature. These bills seek to improve the oversight and monitoring of psychotropic medication administered to children in foster care. The National Center for Youth Law is requesting the support of advocates in California to send letters of support by the end of the day April 6th to ensure their timely submission to the Committee members.
NCYL has provided a listing of sample letters on their web site that you or your organization may use as a framework for your own communications with legislators. Included are the directions for sending the support letters to NCYL, which will ensure that the letters are delivered to the appropriate legislative offices. Letters must reach the NCYL’s e-mail in-boxes by April 5 in order to be submitted on time.
NCYL explains that, “The bill package takes a comprehensive approach that will strengthen the ability of judges, caregivers, child welfare workers, and other professionals to ensure safe and appropriate treatment in the spectrum of wellness and trauma informed health approaches with the aim of reducing the inappropriate uses of psychotropic medications.”
The four bills in the package include:
SB 253 which “would require an order authorizing administration of psychotropic medications to only be granted on clear and convincing evidence of specified matters, and would prohibit the court from authorizing the administration of psychotropic medications for a child unless a 2nd independent medical opinion is obtained from a child psychiatrist or a psychopharmacologist if one or more specified circumstances exist, including if the request is for any class of psychotropic medication for a child who is 5 years of age or younger.”
SB 238 “would state the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would improve the ability of the child welfare system to track and oversee the use of psychotropic medications for children in foster care by requiring, among other things, the development of a system that triggers an alert to medical practitioners treating children in foster care when there could be potentially dangerous interactions between psychotropic medications and other prescribed medications, or when psychotropic medications have been prescribed, or prescribed in dosages, that are unusual for a child or a child of that age.”
SB 319 “would require a foster care public health nurse to monitor and oversee each child in foster care who is administered one or more psychotropic medications, as specified. The bill would give the foster care public health nurse access to the child’s medical, dental, and mental health care information in order to fulfill these duties.”
SB 484 “would require the department director to include in that list specified information regarding administering psychotropic medications to children in those facilities. The bill would also require the department, if it determines based on that information that a facility is administering psychotropic medications to children at a rate exceeding the average authorization for all group homes, to inspect that facility at least once a year to examine specified factors that contribute to the high utilization of psychotropic medications.”
On February 24, 2015, the California legislature held a Joint Oversight Hearing, entitled “Misuse of Psychotropic Medication in Foster Care: Improving Child Welfare Oversight and Outcomes within the Continuum of Care.”
In a background paper provided for the Hearing, Chairman Mike McGuire explained, “Over the last 15 years, prescribing rates of psychotropic medications for California’s foster youth have steadily increased, from less than 1 percent of foster youth receiving such medications in 2000, to nearly 15 percent of all foster youth today. When adjusted to account only for adolescent foster youth, prescribing rates rise to nearly 1 in 4 youth, and 56 percent of all youth residing in group homes were prescribed at least one psychotropic medication.”
Among the most eloquent spokespersons to address the hearing were Iris Hoffman of California Youth Connection, and Jennifer Rodriguez, now executive director with the Youth Laww Center.
Rodriguez addressed the Committee by saying that she’d felt herself to be among the “old-timers” who sat in on similar hearings nearly ten years earlier. At that time, Rogriquez explained, the use of psychotropics in foster care had gained media attention, and she’d brought a small entourage of foster youth with her to address the committee members on the impacts of psychotropic medication on their own lives.
Iris Hoffman, in turn, testified as to the psychological duress imposed on foster youths – particularly in group home settings. Harsh disciplinary measures and potential loss of privileges, such as eating at the dinner table with your homemates, may be imposed for failure to take medications which is considered as being “non-compliant.”1
Some of the more eye-opening testimony came from Dr. George Stewart, who explained that “the research base supporting the use of psycho-pharmaceuticals in children is both thin and corrupted.”
The pharmaceutical industry is immense, having taken in $320 billion worldwide in 2013, with an annual growth rate of 17% at the time, Stewart explained.
“More is spent on marketing than on research and development,” Stewart said. The clinical trial process “is broken,” scholars agree, and the process is one in which conflicts of interest abound, with drug companies conducting their own research, and reimbursing the doctors who perform the research for them. Papers are written by ghost writers, and any unvaforable results are buried by the industry. To make matters worse, there are no long-term studies to demonstrate the safety of the psycho-pharmaceuticals when used on children, Stewart explained.
Bill Grimm, currently a senior attorney with the NCYL, addressed the Committee saying that according to his data, about 85% of children who enter the foster care system don’t get so much as a baseline medical examination before they are administered potent psychotropic medications.
Although the pharmaceutical lndustry has considerable influence in California, the recent hearing and the publicity leading up to it, may help to ensure that these four critical bills get passed.
Whenever something good happens in California’s child welfare system, I always wonder what role Bill Grimm and the NCYL played in it. On February 21, 2015, Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá kdesa reported that the NCYL is still hard at work promoting legislative remedies while the proverbial iron is hot:
State Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, are also crafting bills with guidance from the National Center for Youth Law that would ensure better monitoring of medicated foster children; require regular reports on prescribing; train caregivers and social workers; and drive down prescribing in group homes where medications are most heavily used.
These four bills may actually make a meaningful impact on the lives of many foster children. Please consider lending your support to this effort in any way that you can.
1. These issues were specifically addressed by a number of California Grand Juries. Among the more relevant of the earlier reports was that of the 1996-97 Los Angeles County Grand Jury. Its Final Report extended several pages of analysis toward group homes. The report discussed the inappropriate administration of psychotropic medications, the arbitrarily harsh disciplinary policies of some group homes, and the near-complete lack of monitoring on the part of the department of social services, which gladly paid out exorbitant fees for the “care” of youths in these facilities while offering precious little oversight. The Jury found (p. 8-6) that some group home owners have as many as five or six homes. One owner was puling in the tidy sum of $1,592,280 per year, however the children were not receiving proper activities, clothing, allowances, or educational supplies. The report continued on to note (p. 8-9) that of 32 group homes reviewed by DCFS, 97 percent had incomplete needs assessments on children in their care. With respect to psychotropics specifically, the Jury found that while there had been a law on the books regulating their use since 1988, that law was for the most part ignored. The problem extends further back than that. See Lois Timnick, “Teens in Shelter ‘Like Zombies,’ Report Charges.” Los Angeles Times, (June 10, 1987) (“Nearly one in three teen-agers at MacLaren Children Center, the county’s sole shelter for abused and neglected children, are given tranquilizers or other psychotropic drugs instead of counseling and are “walking around like zombies,” according to the author of a report that will be sent to the Board of Supervisors on Monday”).