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State officials investigating whether 7-year-old suicide victim was given mind-altering drug


Jon Burstein

MARGATE - State officials are investigating whether a 7-year-old boy who hanged himself in his Margate foster home had been given a powerful, mind-altering drug in violation of Florida law.

Three weeks before his April 16 suicide, Gabriel Myers was prescribed the drug Symbyax, which is a combination of the generic forms of the anti-depressant Prozac and the anti-psychosis drug Zyprexa, according to state Department of Children & Families records released Friday night.

But there was no court order in place for Gabriel to use the drug, the records show. Under Florida law, parental consent or a judge's ruling is needed before a foster child can be administered a psychotropic drug.

It's unclear whether Gabriel was taking Symbyax. Margate police have his medication logs as they investigate his death, according to DCF spokeswoman Leslie Mann.

Mann said the agency is examining why a court order was not obtained to put Gabriel on the drug.

"We are not sure at this time if the medication played a role in Gabriel's death, but the department will seek a professional medical review of the treatment and prescription medication in Gabriel's case," she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Prozac for use in children, but not Symbyax and Zyprexa. Even so, doctors have the right to prescribe any drug for any patient they think it will help.

Symbyax, like all anti-depressants, carries a "black box" warning – the strongest the FDA can issue – because anti-depressants increase the risk of suicidal thoughts in minors. Studies have not linked the drugs to an increase in suicides.

The FDA first issued the warning about Paxil in 2003, then extended it to all anti-depressants the next year.

In addition to Symbyax, Gabriel also was on Vyvanse, an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug, records show.

At the time of his death, Gabriel was home alone with the 19-year-old son of his foster father. Gabriel got upset with the young man during lunch, locking himself in the bathroom and saying he was going to kill himself. The young man used a screwdriver to pick the lock and found Gabriel hanging from a shower hose, according to DCF records.

Gabriel was pronounced dead one hour later at Northwest Medical Center in Margate.

DCF is also investigating why Gabriel was being watched by the 19-year-old.

"The bottom line is that (the 19-year-old) should not have been left alone with Gabriel, if in fact he was," Mann said.

DCF began releasing more than 1,000 pages of Gabriel's child welfare records about 7:30 p.m. Friday, detailing a tragic life in which he was both a victim and an apparent danger to other children.

A month before his death, Gabriel told a therapist he was "a bad person," the records state.

"(Gabriel) said, 'I lied when I was 1 years old, then I lied when I was 2 years old. I was born a liar and I will always be lying,' " according to the therapist's report.

DCF first learned of Gabriel in June after his mother was found passed out in a parked car in Hallandale Beach and he was in the back seat. The boy had come from Ohio--where authorities were looking into allegations that he had been sexually abused by an older boy, according to DCF records.

While in Florida, he bounced between his uncle's home and two foster homes. He lived in one foster home from October until March, when fears arose that he might hurt a toddler in the house, according to DCF records. He was then moved to the Margate foster home, where he lived for the three weeks leading up to his death.

Staff Writer Bob LaMendola contributed to this report.

Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954 356-4491.

2009 Apr 24