Danger of foster system drug policy known before child’s suicide

Miami Herald
By FRED GRIMM
fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Gabriel Myers was not yet conceived when The Miami Herald exposed how an astounding number of Florida’s foster children were being addled by powerful psychotropic drugs.

In 2000, The Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller reported that 5,722 foster kids under the age of 10 were prescribed powerful antidepressants, anti-psychotics and tranquilizers — many never approved for treating adolescents, much less young children.

EASIER TO MANAGE

The lurid practice had little to do with real psychiatric disorders — it wasn’t as though Florida’s foster children had gone disproportionately mad. Drugged-out zombie children were simply easier and cheaper to manage.

In 2003, when Gabriel was just one, the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council warned of “a considerable increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs in children and adolescents.”

The state-chartered watchdog noted, “The use of psychotropic drugs by preschoolers was a disturbing discovery since most of these drugs have not been approved for use in young children by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”

OVER HALF ON ADULT DRUGS

The council had randomly checked the files of 1,180 foster kids and found that 55 percent of them had been plied with adult psychotropics. The council noted some of the well known side-effects suffered by children subjected to these drugs: decreased blood flow to the brain, cardiac arrhythmias, disruption of growth hormone leading to suppression of growth in the body and brain of a child, weight loss, permanent neurological tics, dystonia, addiction and abuse, including withdrawal reactions, psychosis, depression, insomnia, agitation and social withdrawal, atrophy in the brain, decreased ability to learn, not to mention a peculiar tendency toward “repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements.”

The advocacy council warned of another, more sobering side effect: suicidal tendencies.

In 2005, when Gabriel was three, the Florida Legislature, spurred by Carol’s stories, the advocacy council and a growing body of national research, instituted restrictions on the use of such drugs on kids in state custody.

JUDGE IGNORED ADVOCATE

Nonetheless, on March 11, Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter ignored the objections of Gabriel’s guardian-ad-litem and approved continuing the psychotropics.

Gabriel’s regimen included Lexapro. Exactly two weeks earlier, the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil complaint against drug maker Forest Laboratories, charging that the drug maker had concealed a clinical study showing that Lexapro was not effective in children and might pose risks to them, including “suicidal tendencies.”

In January, Eli Lilly agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle civil and criminal charges of marketing Zyprexa, another drug in little Gabriel’s prescribed cocktail, for promoting ”off label” uses, including using Zyprexa to subdue unruly children.

On April 16, Gabriel Myers, in an act that should have been unimaginable for a seven-year-old, locked himself in the bathroom of his Margate foster home and hanged himself.

But Gabriel had been subjected to at least four adult psychotropics. Prophetic warnings about the possible side effects in children — ”suicidal tendencies” — had been sounded long before he was born.

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