BY KRIS HUNDLEY
and CONNIE HUMBURG
The agency in charge of Florida’s foster kids thinks it has finally gotten a handle on how many of its charges are on powerful psychiatric drugs.
But a closer look raises serious questions about the validity of the recently updated database.
While Florida’s Department of Children and Families said last week that a review of case files found 2,669 children on psychotropic medications, the supporting data are shaky.
DCF’s records include such unlikely scenarios as an eight-year delay between the time a court approved a drug and the date it was actually prescribed.
In another case, a child started taking a drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder nine years before the judge gave consent.
About 100 court approvals were signed on weekends.
And of more than 5,000 prescriptions, only one child was reportedly taking Symbyax, a combination antipsychotic and antidepressant that has been on the market since 2004. Symbyax was one of the psychotropic drugs being taken by a 7-year-old foster child who committed suicide in South Florida last month.
DCF is required by law to track foster children on psychiatric drugs because of potentially dangerous side effects. Previously, the department had reported that fewer than 2,000 kids were on such prescriptions.
In its review, DCF also admitted that one in six of those children did not have legally required approval by either a parent or a judge to have such a prescription.
But in hundreds of cases in which a judge’s consent reportedly was obtained, the date of that order came either long before or long after the prescription started.
In 10 cases around the state, DCF’s records show judges signing consent orders for a variety of drugs in January 2001, but the children’s prescriptions did not start until 2009.
A 16-year-old in Marion County was approved for the antipsychotic Risperdal in August 2005, but the prescription didn’t begin until May 2009.
A 15-year-old in Duval County had a judge sign off on another antipsychotic, Abilify, in January 2007; state records show the prescription began in May 2009.
John Cooper, DCF’s acting assistant director of operations, acknowledged shortcomings in the state’s database but said the medication start date could simply reflect the most recent prescription for a long-standing medication.
Andrea Moore, a longtime advocate for foster children, said that’s no excuse. State law requires judges to regularly review the appropriateness of psychotropic prescriptions, she said, especially if the medication is changed.
“A consent signed two years earlier is not a valid consent,” said Moore, former executive director of Florida’s Children First. “That’s particularly important when you’re talking about atypical antipsychotics where serious questions have been raised about their long-term side effects.”
Conversely, in more than 100 cases, there was an unusually long delay between the medication start and the court order.
A 14-year-old in Brevard County reportedly on the ADHD drug Adderall since 1999 received court approval in November 2008.
A 16-year-old in Hillsborough County began taking Seroquel, an antipsychotic, in October 2005, with a judge’s consent received this January.
DCF Secretary George Sheldon ordered a thorough review of all kids on psychotropic drugs last month after the suicide of Gabriel Myers. Myers, who had been in state custody for 10 months, was on Symbyax, as well as Vyvanse, for ADHD.
The state’s database shows only one other foster child, a 14-year-old in Marion County, currently taking Symbyax. DCF’s Cooper declined to comment on why the drug did not appear more frequently.
Symbyax has not been approved for children, although the practice that employs Gabriel Myers’ psychiatrist is currently recruiting adolescents for a clinical trial of Symbyax for bipolar depression.
This story appeared in print on page B1