Children

Missouri Keeps Foster Kids in a 'Chemical Straight Jacket,' Alleges Lawsuit

A systemic lack of safeguards in how the state medicates foster children

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Pile of White Pink and Brown Oblong and Round Medication Tablet
Pexels

Missouri's foster care system prescribes a dangerous amount of anti-psychotic drugs to children, according to a suit filed Monday by the National Center for Youth Law, the Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinic, and the legal advocacy group Children's Rights. Powerful psychotropic drugs designed for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are being used to manage behavioral problems or attention deficit disorder, putting the kids in what Bill Grimm, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, calls a "chemical straightjacket."

"The sedative properties of the drugs are employed to sedate and control the difficult behaviors of children," says Grimm. The problem is compounded, he adds, by an inadequate system of medical record-keeping: "The caregivers don't know in some instances what the medications are, what conditions they're supposed to address for the child, what benefits they are supposed to provide to the child….They are operating in the dark."

In several cases, according to the lawsuit, a foster child has arrived at a new guardian's home with medicine stuffed in a paper bag or wrapped in tissue paper, without any information about proper dosage or potential side effects. One child was hospitalized for six days after she received the wrong dose of several psychotropic medications. Another was prescribed seven different psychotropic drugs at once, including three anti-psychotics; as a result, the suit says, he developed tremors and required institutionalization.

Missouri isn't that only state with a history of misuing psychotropic drugs in its foster care system. The Government Accountability Office has produced multiple reports on the subject, and in 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services issued a directive requiring states to report on their efforts to curb the problem. Many states responded with reforms. Washington established a requirement that any prescription of psychotropic drugs should receive a second opinion from a child psychiatrist. Florida requires informed consent from the kids' legal guardians before the drugs can be administered. Texas has implemented a training program for child welfare workers and foster parents on alternatives to medication.

Missouri's efforts have been more tepid. In 2013, the state adopted a pilot "second opinion" program, in which a board-certified child psychiatrist was tasked with reviewing 10 children's prescriptions and searching for trends in how these medications are used. Three years later, a progress report bluntly stated that "obtaining complete records from prescribers and health care providers was a difficult task and the review did not render sufficient or meaningful data."

In its 2016 report to the federal government, Missouri's Department of Social Services admitted that "many foster care children are prescribed multiple psychotropic medications without clear evidence of benefit and with inadequate safety data. The use of multiple medications (psychotropic or otherwise) creates the potential for serious drug interactions."

The result, according to the lawsuit, is a violation of the children's constitutional rights. "Whenever a state takes a child into custody, there are certain obligation that arise to that child from the state," Grimm tells Reason. One is that the government makes reasonable efforts to protect the child from harm.

The suit aims to stop the use of psychotropic drugs to control behavior; to institute greater oversight, including a more substantial second opinion program; and to make the state track the medical records. Federal lawsuits are a long and cumbersome process, and the plaintiffs do not expect a remedy anytime soon. In the meantime, foster children in Missouri will continue to be given high doses of psychotropic drugs, whether they need them or not.

NEXT: Iowa Eye Doctor Sues State Over Cronyist Rule That's Kept Him Out of Business Since 2004

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  1. Missouri is another one of those states that you couldn’t pay me enough to live in.

    1. For me that list is getting longer and longer by the day.

      1. I’m up to 146.

    2. I live across State Line in Olathe, KS. Everytime I go into Missouri, I feel a little bit dirty.

      The ONLY thing good about Missouri (compared to KS), is that you can buy booze at Target.

      1. And guns! (Cue the scene from The Matrix)

  2. Another was prescribed seven different psychotropic drugs at once, including three anti-psychotics; as a result, the suit says, he developed tremors and required institutionalization.

    Well at least he wasn’t in an abusive home or locked up in some pedophile’s porn dungeon.

    1. But may have formed pseudomemories that he was…and may act on them!


  3. “Whenever a state takes a child into custody, there are certain obligation that arise to that child from the state,” Grimm tells Reason. One is that the government makes reasonable efforts to protect the child from harm.

    Well, you might think that’s the case but considering the government loves to use the excuse ‘for the children’ all the time I suppose we should just ignore what they do with the actual children they already have under their care, yeah? How is doing this to kids better than what they might have been dealing with at home, one must wonder? The implication to me is that children have rights, but only the State is allowed to violate those rights whereas the parent can not. Bizarre, to be sure.


    Texas has implemented a training program for child welfare workers and foster parents on alternatives to medication.

    I’m not so sure this is really an effective idea, but my home state tends to fail pretty often when it comes to so-called ‘social policy’.

  4. So where are the Drug Warriors when you really actually need them?

    1. Also working for the state.

  5. Drug them when they’re children and they’ll vote Democrat when they hit 18.

  6. The government needs to take control of these unregulated foster homes and doctors……

    (What was that? You say the government runs the foster system? And that the government also has regulations about what doctors prescribe?)

    Huh. Go figure!

  7. OT: My nomination for most ironic criminal sentence of the year:

    “Husband who robbed bank to escape wife is sentenced to home confinement”

    http://www.kansascity.com/news…..36879.html

    1. Though Lawrence John Ripple pleaded guilty to bank robbery in January and could have spent up to 37 months in prison, his attorney and federal prosecutors asked a U.S. District Court judge for leniency.

      And the judge refused!

      1. And the judge refused!

        You know her, right? Then this punishment won’t be unusual then!

  8. Florida requires informed consent from the kids’ legal guardians

    2 Questions:
    1. Do foster homes count as legal guardians? (I don’t think so. The children are still considered wards of the state, aren’t they) This is a non-sequitur.

    2. You mean some states DON’T require informed consent from kids’ legal guardians for psychotropic drug prescriptions????

  9. Chemical Straight Jacket is my nickname on the rave scene.

    1. You spend a lot of time with the Pudding Pop?

  10. Are any doctors even questioning the “need” to drug kids quiet anymore?

    1. ^This^

      In my experience, any that are sit behind a cottage industry of children’s mental health professionals.

      “The caregivers don’t know in some instances what the medications are, what conditions they’re supposed to address for the child, what benefits they are supposed to provide to the child….They are operating in the dark.”

      Made me think, “In their defense, most of the medical professionals probably don’t know either.” Pretty much every professional we spoke with openly acknowledges that even with a known diagnosis and complete medical workup dosing is still largely a guessing game and, even when correct, can be more like having hit a moving target rather than discovering the right dial settings that return kids to clockwork-like normality.

    2. Would it matter? The schools would go out of their way to hire a doctor who favors drugging kids into subservience and stump for a tax increase if the hiring cost escalated. And as government begins to take over health care it will be illegal to question a doctor, let alone not follow his orders.

  11. I’m assuming AddictionMyth got banned or retired to another handle if he hasn’t already responded to this.

    1. The AddictionMyth account and its sock dajjal got banned and then came back to stink up the joint some more in the form of one DanO, but that handle hasn’t been around lately. It possibly got banned too, or else the dumbass running it finally got the help he needed.

      1. It possibly got banned too, or else the dumbass running it finally got the help he needed.

        “Set up an email server in a closet that was subsequently hacked by Russians.” is much more plausible.

    2. Addiction Myth had some of the most interesting posts. I guess I just have bad taste.

      1. Interesting, yes, but quite difficult to follow sometimes.

  12. Hmm-who foots the bill for all these psychotropic meds if the kids are wards of the state? They ain’t cheap.

    1. Not cheap, but subsidized…by the insurance companies. Your Insurance Dollars At Work.

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  14. Psychoactive drugs can only be given to people who don’t want them.

  15. strait (narrow, constricting) jacket, dammit.

  16. Pharmaceutical companies make money when children are given psychopharmaceutical drugs. Insurance companies make money (specifically, yours, if you have medical insurance) when children are given psychopharmaceutical drugs. We have no idea how much harm is done to the children who are given these drugs.

    We do know, though, that about one out of ten or twenty will become violent and/or suicidal. There’s a specific pattern associated with Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants where patients develop acute pain, form pseudomemories of violent abuse that might have caused that pain, then feel an urge to kill (a) people they may accuse of having participated in the abuse, or (b) people they may claim to want to protect from similar abuse, or (c) themselves, or (d) all of the above. There’s another pattern associated with Tegretol (and possibly other “antispasmodic” drugs) where patients become obsessed with death and suicide; some become suicidal, some just think about it enough to disturb others around them…

    I had a wonderful, beautiful experience with a foster child who had a lot of emotional issues, and spent a lot of time in counselling, but wasn’t medicated.

    Others have had less pleasant experiences with children who’ve been “medicated.”

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