Study: One in four foster children on antidepressants


Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 2:49 a.m.
MIAMI - Powerful mood-altering drugs are being prescribed to one out of every four foster children under the care of Florida's child welfare agency, according to a study that prompted concerns the medication is inappropriate, too costly and simply dangerous.
The analysis, conducted by Florida's Department of Children & Families, revealed that consultants hired by the state questioned ''the appropriateness'' of prescribing mental health drugs to 1,273 children, and told 442 doctors they were engaging in ''questionable'' practices.
''There is evidence that some children . . . are prescribed psychotropic medications simply to address behavioral problems,'' DCF committee staff director Beverly Whiddon said.
The issue has long been a concern for child welfare advocates and state officials.
In November 2003, former DCF Secretary Jerry Regier told a Senate committee that the agency would undertake a study to examine whether psychotropic drugs are being properly prescribed to thousands of foster children.
In the fiscal year that ended in June 2002, 5,137 foster children were prescribed psychotropic drugs, including 550 children 5 years old and younger, according to DCF data based solely on Medicaid records, not from HMOs or private insurance.
Sen. Walter ''Skip'' Campbell, D-Tamarac and chairman of the Senate Children & Families Committee, said he will introduce a bill to be heard in this year's legislative session seeking to curb the practice. Campbell has long been concerned about whether the practice results in addiction among kids to the medications.
''This is a unique population, and I hate to see them used as guinea pigs,'' said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach.
The study also revealed that one in 10 foster children are taking at least three psychiatric drugs simultaneously, and that the state's cost for mental health drugs has nearly tripled since 2001 to a projected $680 million during this budget year.

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