"A bill before the Nevada State Legislature would require parental consent, or court approval, before psychotropic drugs can be used on the youngest foster kids."
Las Vegas - EyeWitnessNews
Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke
I-Team: Young Foster Kids on Powerful Psychiatric Drugs
May 19, 2009
Remember that kid in school who had all the answers? In Mr. Moye's honors history class, her name is Saida Brown. The Coronado High School sophomore values education like first-time drivers cherish their wheels.
Born to a drug-addicted mom, Saida entered foster care at 14-years-old when a family member discovered she was cutting herself. Frequent admissions to mental health facilities followed, along with multiple psychiatric diagnoses. "I was on so many medications. They had me on medications that zoned me out. My grades in school mean so much to me and they would send me to school on Thorazine," she said.
She says she was on Seroquel, Haldol, and Depakote, just to name a few. They're powerful, mood-altering drugs and some of them are not approved for use on children. "The medicine was making it worse. I was like, ‘I don't need any pharmaceuticals to help me cope with life. I just need someone to sit down and talk to me,' you know," she said.
A review of state insurance records suggests Saida's experience is not unique. In 2007, one in five kids in the custody of state or county agencies was prescribed one or more psychotropic medications. More than 80 children 5-years-old or younger were taking powerful anti-psychotic drugs.
"We just don't know the long term effects of many of these pharmaceuticals on kids because it's not really measured -- the anti-psychotics in particular," said child psychiatrist Dr. Norton Roitman.
Roitman is among a growing chorus seeking more oversight of the process by which children in the system receive medication. A bill before the Nevada State Legislature would require parental consent, or court approval, before psychotropic drugs can be used on the youngest foster kids.
"It's just like grammar school; you have to show your work. You have to show you've gone through the necessary steps to not overprescribe. In order to put a kid at risk, you have to be able to justify that," he said.
Roitman acknowledges, of course, some children benefit from medication but insists a lack of resources contributes to overuse.
"I decided I wasn't going to be a guinea pig anymore," said Saida. With the support of her foster mom and a therapist, Saida stopped taking her pills. "That was kind of my turning point for when I started to get on track," she said.
Saida's fellow students recently elected her junior class president and her academic achievement puts her among the top of her class. At 17-years-old, she may not really have all the answers, but Saida will be the first to tell you that she has some of them. "Everything is not going to be ok unless you push yourself to keep going," she said.
Family Services Director Tom Morton has conducted his own research into this issue. His findings show 55 children in county custody under the age of six on psychotropic medications, including a 2-year-old diagnosed with three different disorders taking five different drugs.
Policy changes are underway to keep the agency more informed about what drugs kids in their care are taking and in the future, all requests will be reviewed by clinical staff.
Morton says he supports the latest legislation.