Vero Beach Press-Journal
BY DARA KAM
The Palm Beach Post
May 29, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — Three times more children in state care are being given mind-altering drugs than kids in the general population, according to an audit of the Department of Children and Families.
And the state is giving the drugs to many children without the legal authority to do so, the preliminary review found.
“That is unacceptable,” said DCF Secretary George Sheldon, who ordered the review after the April 16 death of a 7-year-old Broward County boy in foster care.
Gabriel Myers, who apparently hung himself, was on a mix of the psychotropic medicines, but none of the drugs showed up in the agency’s computer database. And his file did not include a consent form for the medication from a parent or judge as required by state law.
Gabriel’s death exposed endemic problems within the department regarding the use of the psychotropic drugs that Sheldon pledged “to make right.”
For example, the department’s database contained missing elements including consent orders, prescription drugs, dosages and assessment dates. So the information the review is based on is incomplete or could be inaccurate.
The problems exist four years after the legislature changed the law to require the informed consent orders before children in foster care could be put on drugs.
“The good news is that the secretary is trying to get to the bottom of the problems here. The bad news is that they still don’t have a handle on why three times as many children in foster care are on psychotropic medication as children in the general population,” said Andrea Moore, an attorney and child advocate who first challenged the department’s widespread use of the psychotropic drugs nearly a decade ago.
She and others worry that the drugs are being used not as a last resort but as a chemical restraint.
“I can’t tell you how troubling it is to me,” said Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “Perhaps treating children with drugs may have become the default treatment because it’s easier.”
Sheldon said that he, too, has serious concerns about whether the drugs are being over-prescribed and has asked the auditing team to look into it.