Joan Murray Reporting
HIALEAH (CBS4) ― The mother of a 12-year-old autistic boy who died while in the care of a group home has filed a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit claiming overmedication led to his death.
Martha Quesada spoke to reporters in Ft. Lauderdale on Wednesday. Her son Denis Maltez died in 2007 while he was at the former Rainbow Ranch group home in Miami.
“It’s especially hard because he died around Mother’s Day,” Quesada said, fighting back tears. “I have two other children, but this is when he passed away.”
At the time of his death on May 23, 2007 Denis was under the care of Miami psychiatrist Dr. Steven L. Kaplan. Kaplan is named in the lawsuit, along with the group home’s operator, David Glatt.
“This is a clear case of a 12-year-old child who perished because he was given a lethal combination of off-label, dangerous, anti-psychotic drugs to control his behavior without appropriate consent and supervision,” said Howard Talenfeld, who is Martha Quesada’s attorney.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner found that Denis died of Central Serotonergic Syndrome. This resulted from the co-administration of multiple psychotropic medications with no monitoring or supervision, the suit claims. The drugs stimulated overproduction of serotonin – a naturally occurring chemical that help regulate a person’s mood. This proved lethal, the suit claims. Denis, who had severe autism, died in a van after being restrained by group home staff.
Quesada’s lawsuit comes a month after the death of Gabriel Myers. The 7-year-old foster child had been prescribed a variety of mental health drugs and later hanged himself. The state Department of Children and Families is now studying the use of psychiatric medication on foster children.
CBS 4 News Reporter Joan Murray spoke with DCF Secretary George Sheldon about the lawsuit. While Denis was “not” under DCF care, Sheldon says his death underscores the urgent need to look at the use of psychotropic drugs on children.
“What we have to do is learn from this experience,” said Sheldon. “Not only in the licensing of group homes, but we have to use the same kind of care a parent would use.”
Sheldon says he expects big policy changes on the state level. “We have to make sure there is a third party review of psychotropic drugs,” added Sheldon