Monday, February 04, 2008

New York Post

PILL PUSH RAGE

POL WANTS PROBE

By SUSAN EDELMAN susan.edelman@nypost.com

February 4, 2008 -- A key New York state senator demanded yesterday that top health and mental-health officials explain why the Medicaid program has been paying for tens of thousands of children to receive psychiatric drugs that have not been FDA-approved for kids.

Thomas Morahan (R-Rockland), chairman of the senate's Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, said he was stunned by a Sunday Post report that the state Medicaid program spent $82.8 million on powerful antipsychotics, anticonvulsants and antidepressants for children under 18 in 2006 - a sum up nearly $15 million since 2004.

Many of the drugs have potentially dangerous side effects and have not been adequately tested or approved as safe and effective for children.

"I have deep concerns for the well-being of all children in our state, whether they receive medication through Medicaid or through other means," Morahan said. "It is critical that state agencies be fully responsible and aware of the medical ramifications of psychiatric drugs."

Morahan called on the Health Department and the Office of Mental Health to issue a report by Feb. 25.

While the drugs - mostly approved for adults - can be effective in treating illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, experts fear they may be overprescribed or used to control common behavior problems.

The drugs have serious possible side effects, including diabetes caused by weight gain, Parkinson's-like movement disorders and breast growth in boys. Several of the drugs carry FDA "black box" warnings that the medication may cause youngsters to become suicidal.

Medicaid officials told The Post they pay claims for the drugs without requiring doctors or other prescribers to give a specific diagnosis Officials could not say what the kids were treated for.

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