Prescriptions for tragedy
February 1, 2005
St Petersburg Times Editorial
Welfare officials have finally acknowledged what advocates and some lawmakers have known for years: Too many Florida foster children are being doped up on unnecessary, and dangerous, psychotropic drugs. With the facts no longer in dispute, perhaps now state leaders can get down to the business of finding and funding a comprehensive solution.
The Department of Children and Families earlier this month released a study that should lay to rest any lingering doubt about the severity of the problem. According to the state's consultants, one in every four children in foster care is being prescribed mood-altering drugs - including hundreds of preschoolers 5 years old and younger - even though most of the drugs have not been proven safe or effective for use on children. One in 10 of those medicated children are taking an even more dangerous three-drug "cocktail," often under medical practices the consultants found "questionable."
"What is happening to these children is tragic," said Andrea Moore, a Coral Springs lawyer who is now the director of the advocacy group Florida's Children First.
Moore should know. She was among the first to complain to DCF, in 2001, that mind-altering drugs were being used on many foster children as "chemical restraints" to control unruly behavior, rather than as legitimate therapy to address true mental-health concerns. DCF's response at the time? It conducted a review - and promptly concluded there was no problem. The agency took a similarly dismissive approach two years later, when the Statewide Advocacy Council documented the "disturbing" overuse of these dangerous drugs. DCF disputed many of the watchdog group's findings before barring it from reviewing records for the first time in 28 years. While DCF has taken modest steps since then to address the issue, it has not moved aggressively enough.
"If DCF had done what it needed to do in response to the advocacy council, the numbers in its recent report would not have been so dramatic," Moore told the Times.
Psychotropic drugs may be appropriate in some cases, but only where their use is monitored and informed - and comes as a last resort. DCF should work closely with lawmakers such as Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac, who is sponsoring a bill this session to curb the practice. Campbell has done so repeatedly in the past, with no success. Could this be the year Florida finally cracks down on this egregious form of child abuse?