Senator: drug companies “can lobby all they want. They can’t stop this.”


Miami Herald

Foster kids, prescriptions — finally alarm
By FRED GRIMM

Gabriel Myers finally matters.

Too late for him — the foster kid we addled with anti-depressants and anti-psychotics without quite knowing the effects drug cocktails might have on a 7-year-old.

One potential side effect of feeding Lexapro, Zyprexa and Symbyax to a 67-pound child became grotesquely obvious. Young Gabriel coiled a shower hose around his neck and hanged himself in the bathroom of his Miramar foster home.

Gabriel’s death on April 15 roiled child advocates, critics of the pharmaceutical industry, the media. But this week, a child’s suicide finally elicited a reaction where it matters.

“I tell you, we’re going to do something. We’re going to do a full-court press,” said State Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat, still shocked after members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee were briefed Wednesday by the Gabriel Myers Task Force.

UNACCEPTABLE

Committee Chair Rhonda Storms, a Valrico Republican, told reporters, “I cannot accept or believe that a little child cannot be reached except by drugging him and drugging him and drugging him.”

The task force catalogued drug regimens for foster children that the FDA never approved for children. It described a system blighted by haphazard oversight. No one within the child-care bureaucracy took direct responsibility for the child’s complex psychological needs. No one was looking out for a profoundly troubled child’s best interest.

Hill railed that Gabriel’s foster parents, schools, case workers and doctors hardly spoke to one another as his problems escalated. “No communication,” he said, his voice rising in anger.

No one acted as a parent. A vigilant, caring parent would have questioned a pharmaceutical solution to the little boy’s behavior. Child advocate Andrea Moore read the task force report and worried that the doctors had responded more to bureaucratic needs of the system than the therapeutic needs of children. About 22 percent of the foster children aged 6 to 12, and a third of foster kids 13 to 17, are on psychiatric drugs. Such numbers, utterly out of whack with the general population, defy any explanation other than foster kids were to be transformed into compliant little zombies.

“We’re going to find out,” Hill promised, describing a bipartisan fury.

“We’re going to find out why doctors are writing these prescriptions, and we’re going to find out about the relationship between the doctors and drug companies.”

`MAJOR CHANGE’

Advocates like Moore have long complained that state foster care facilities administered psychotropics in lieu of providing real therapy. Five years ago, the Legislature passed supposed safeguards to rein in the pill madness. Obviously, they didn’t work.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies have been encouraging doctors to prescribe unapproved, off-label uses for their expensive, profitable drugs.

DCF has promised to revisit psychotropics regulations. Hill promised tough legislation. “Major, major change is coming. The whole committee is behind this.” He said drug companies “can lobby all they want. They can’t stop this.”

It took the death of a child to arouse the legislators. “I admit, I didn’t know this was going on before Gabriel,” Hill said, using the boy’s name to describe a tragic event. “That should never have happened to a child.”

But now, hopefully, it matters.

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