Watch­dog slams safe­guards for fos­ter kids on psych drugs

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zal­divar

WASH­ING­TON — Thou­sands of fos­ter chil­dren may be get­ting pow­er­ful psy­chi­atric drugs pre­scribed to them with­out ba­sic safe­guards, says a fed­eral watch­dog agency that found a fail­ure to care for young­sters whose lives have al­ready been dis­rupted.

A re­port re­leased on Sept. 17 by the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice found that about 1 in 3 fos­ter kids from a sam­ple of states were pre­scribed psy­chi­atric drugs with­out treat­ment plans or fol­low-up, stan­dard steps in sound med­i­cal care.

Kids get­ting mood-al­ter­ing drugs they don’t need is only part of the prob­lem. In­ves­ti­ga­tors also said chil­dren who need med­i­ca­tion to help them func­tion at school or get along in so­cial set­tings may be go­ing un­treated.

The drugs in­clude med­i­ca­tions for at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der, anx­i­ety, PTSD, de­pres­sion, bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophre­nia. Fos­ter kids are much more likely to get psy­chi­atric drugs than chil­dren over­all.

“We are wor­ried about the gap in com­pli­ance be­cause it has an im­me­di­ate, real-world im­pact on chil­dren’s lives,” said Ann Maxwell, an as­sis­tant in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Among the sit­u­a­tions in­ves­ti­ga­tors en­coun­tered was the case of a 6-year-old boy di­ag­nosed with ADHD, learn­ing and speech disor­ders, out­bursts of tem­per and de­fi­ance, and hair-pulling dis­or­der. He had been put on four psy­chi­atric drugs.

But a med­i­ca­tion re­view ques­tioned the need for some of the med­i­ca­tions. Of the four, two were dis­con­tin­ued and one was re­duced in dosage, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. Two dif­fer­ent med­i­ca­tions were then pre­scribed.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found no ev­i­dence that a treat­ment plan for the boy had been de­vel­oped in the first place, be­fore start­ing him on med­i­ca­tion.

In an­other case, an 11-year-old boy had been put on two med­i­ca­tions af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with ADHD, anx­i­ety and be­hav­ior prob­lems. But over a three-month pe­riod his fos­ter mother had prob­lems get­ting pre­scrip­tion re­fills. By the fourth month, the boy’s life was out of con­trol. His de­cline in­cluded steal­ing, ly­ing, bul­ly­ing and an in-school sus­pen­sion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found there was no re­quire­ment in that state for case work­ers to fol­low up with fos­ter par­ents about med­i­ca­tions. The lack of ef­fec­tive fol­low-up con­trib­uted to the boy’s down­ward spi­ral.

“These chil­dren are at greater risk of not get­ting the med­i­ca­tions they need, but equally im­por­tant, they are at risk of get­ting pow­er­ful med­i­ca­tions that they do not need,” Maxwell said.

/ AP-Mark Len­ni­han

A fed­eral watch­dog agency says thou­sands of fos­ter chil­dren may be get­ting pow­er­ful psy­chi­atric drugs pre­scribed to them with­out re­quired safe­guards.

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