exposing the dark side of adoption
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Steven Goldsmith

After Domico Presnell died in foster care April 21, 1996, the Post-Intelligencer requested state records of common psychotropic prescriptions given to foster children.

That was possible because virtually all the state's foster children are covered by Medicaid. The checks are written by the state Medical Assistance Administration, an arm of the Department of Social and Health Services.

The statistics, however, had to be gleaned from archived computer records that had not been set up for that purpose. The Post-Intelligencer loaded a database program with National Drug Code numbers for hundreds of generic and name-brand drugs, which were cross-referenced with Medicaid billings stored on computer tapes in Olympia.

The Post-Intelligencer then used computers to classify tens of thousands of billing records into types of drugs and recipients.

Medications given to foster children were compared with those given to children in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, the other major group of Medicaid recipients.

The most recent available totals were from 1992 because Washington state shifted after that to a managed care network, which averages costs over many patients rather than paying for each pill bottle. Exact drug claims are not reported by all the regional service networks that gradually have taken over Medicaid billings throughout the state, said Gary Coates, a DSHS statistician.

The 1992 totals show that about 19 percent of the state's 8,162 foster children were prescribed one of 23 different psychotropic drugs. More than half of the foster population was under 6 years old.

Fewer than 2 percent of the state's 244,125 AFDC children were given psychotropic drugs.

Contributors to this series:

Steven Goldsmith, Reporter/Writer

Robin Layton, Photographer

Cliff Vancura, Graphics/design

Mike Stollhaus, Layout and design.

Paul McElroy, Data analysis

Duane Hoffmann, Logo design

Katy Johansson, Research

Who to call

Information about behavioral modifiction drugs for children and about children with special needs.

Children's Resource Line

Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Seattle

(206) 526-2500

Crisis Clinic of Seattle/King County

(206) 461-3222

Foster Parents Association of Washington

(206) 874-3077

Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill

(206) 789-7722

Learning Disabilities Association of Washington

(206) 882-0792

Washington Protection & Advocacy System

(206) 324-1521

State Department of Social and Health Services, Children's Services

(800) 723-4831

National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

Legal advocacy in mental health.

(612) 224-7761

Support Coalition International

Alliance on human rights in psychiatry.

(541) 345-9106

Internet Web site: www.efn.org/~dendron

1997 Mar 31