The Jacksonville Observer
News Service of Florida
A 7-year-old Margate boy being treated with powerful psychotropic drugs may not have intentionally killed himself last spring when he hanged himself by a shower hose in his foster family’s home, a medical examiner concluded in a recently released report.
The report, released Thursday, states that though Gabriel Myers was responsible for the actions that led to his death, he never expressed any thoughts of suicide to psychiatrists who interviewed him several times.
“He has a history of self-inflicted injury for secondary gains,” wrote Dr. Stephen Cina, Broward County’s deputy chief medical examiner. “In fact, at one point he injured his own neck to mimic strangulation in order to get other children in trouble. An argument could be made that his hanging was accidental, an attention-getting act gone awry.”
Myers had been bounced from home to home, disciplined for behavioral problems and forbidden to see his mom.
The case drew outrage from child advocates last spring, when Department of Children and Families officials released the information about the case. Myers had been on heavy doses of psychotropic drugs, yet those medications were not accurately reflected in his case file.
Psychotropic medications include a wide range substances used to treat psychotic behavior, depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior and attention deficit disorder and include such brand name drugs as Haldol, Prozac, Valium and Ritalin.
DCF Secretary George Sheldon appointed a work group to investigate the case and the use of psychotropic drugs on foster children. The results were even startling to the department.
The group found that about 15 percent of foster children in Florida were being prescribed mood or mind-altering medications. However, only 5 percent of all children nationally are on such drugs. The research found that foster children as young as 2-years-old have been treated with psychotropic drugs.
And in many cases, the children had been put on the drugs without parental consent or judicial order.
Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jim Sewell, who chaired the work group, told the News Service Friday that he has begun to review the medical examiner’s report, but he is also waiting for the police to release a final report on Myers’ death as well.
Regardless of whether Myers’ death was an intentional suicide or not, Sewell said it brought to light problems within the child welfare system that need to be addressed. The final report of the Gabriel Myers Work Group illustrated a complete breakdown between different services within the system.
Psychiatrists, school officials and foster care officials all noted behavioral problems in Myers and attempted to help. But none of the people communicated with each other, a repeated pattern, the group found.
“The greatest difference with Gabriel was that kid was crying for help in a lot of different ways,” Sewell said. “And you had a lot of people who wanted to give it to him, but they weren’t coordinating it well.”
The issue and work group report has received legislative attention as well. Lawmakers have held two committee meetings on the issue, one in Tallahassee and one in Tampa. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said last month the Senate committee on Children, Family and Elder Affairs will be introducing legislation related to the issue in the coming months.
The work group will release its recommendations on Nov. 19, Sewell said. He said the majority of them will likely focus on integrating services within the system so that, hopefully, no other children will be in the same position as Myers.
“You had a lot of good attempts by a lot of different agencies to help him and they weren’t successful,” Sewell said.