Mental Health Screening for Texas Kids
By Cathie Adams, president of Texas Eagle Forum
"Have you often felt very nervous when you've had things to do in front of
"Has there been a time when you had less energy than you usually do?"
"Has there been a time when you felt you couldn't do anything well or that
you weren't as good-looking or as smart as other people?"
If you would answer, "Yes" to any of these questions, then you are either
crazy or at least have mental health problems according to a Columbia
University based program called TeenScreen. TeenScreen labels 15% of the
students screened as having mental health problems, a diagnosis that leads
to the use of powerful and sometimes hazardous medications.
A January 2006 Brandeis University study found that psychotropic drug
prescriptions for teens surged 250% from 1994-2001. One in every ten doctor
office visits by teenage boys led to a prescription for a psychotropic drug.
A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, a malady that
was first defined in 1980, has grown to epidemic proportions. The subjective
diagnosis of ADHD was given to about one-third of the office visits during
the study period. Last year
15 million antidepressant prescriptions were written for teens and children,
but such medications may in part account for the doubling of suicide rates
over the past 20 years for children 5-14 year old.
Financial incentives such as Medicaid funding to the family of a child
diagnosed with ADHD as much as $450 a month and funding to schools $400 a
year for each ADHD child probably increases the number of diagnoses.
It is insidious that this government-driven scheme puts children at risk
while it profits pharmaceutical companies at taxpayer expense.
Even though pharmaceutical companies will profit from the Medicare Drug
Package that was originally estimated to cost taxpayers $400 billion, but
has now grown to $1.2 trillion, they want more. The industry's aim is to not
only collaborate with the schools, but to also coax government into
requiring mental health screening for every man, woman and child.
Following is the timeline of Texas' involvement in this pharmaceutical
- In 1995, then Governor Bush initiated collaboration between the Texas
Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR), pharmaceutical
companies and the University of Texas Southwestern, funded by the Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation and several drug companies.
- In 1997, Texas initiated a drug protocol called the Texas Medication
Algorithm Project, TMAP, for state mental health programs. The health care
provider drug protocol calls for prescribing new and very expensive
psychotropic drugs, as well as more prescriptions, which caused Texas
Medicaid spending on five atypical antipsychotic drugs to skyrocket from
$28 million to $177 million in 2004.
- In 1999, the Texas legislature codified TMAP for state-owned and
state-funded mental health clinics. Texas officials pressured physicians to
follow TMAP or to justify a different course with a note in a patient's
file, making it a rare exception.
- In 2002, President Bush issued Executive Order 13263 creating the New
Freedom Commission, which calls for universal mental health screening, a
call that was highly unlikely to pass Congress. TMAP became the federal
model and at least 17 other states have adopted the Texas model.
- In 2005, Texas Eagle Forum savvy volunteer MerryLynn Gerstenschlager,
found an amendment on a state mental health reform bill that would have cost
billons of dollars to integrate mental and physical health in Texas to
screen for "co-occurring physical, mental and substance-abuse disorders" and
to develop integrated treatment strategies" for both adults and children.
Gun Owners of America joined TEF's opposition stating, "The amendment calls
for a mental health screening system that could potentially cover every
child in the state-with no guarantee that it won't be done over the
objections of the parents."
- In 2005 Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill after the amendment was removed.
- In 2006, Attorney General Greg Abbott investigated whether drug companies
improperly influenced Dr. Steven Shon, medical director of behavioral health
at the Department of State Health Services. Dr. Shon, who made more than 80
trips outside Texas to promote the drug Risperdal and TMAP at drug company
expense, was fired when Abbott joined a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson
and several subsidiaries claiming misrepresentation of the safety and
effectiveness of the drug. A settlement could cost the drug company more
than $1 billion.
In 2007, TEF will remain vigilant in our opposition to mandatory mental
health screening. At the federal level, we will watch closely the No Child
Left Behind Act that will be up for renewal as well as plans to expand
psychological screening programs, beginning in infancy.