The multimedia series “Drugging Our Kids,” published by the San Jose Mercury News, won the Edward R. Murrow Award for an online news video documentary by a large online organization last week.
“It’s really gratifying to see that investigative reporting that focuses on children and families and poor kids that have no voice and no lobby get recognition,” said Karen de Sá, who reported for the series and documentary.
However, de Sá said she is most proud of the film’s use in educational and professional trainings and current legislation inspired by the series.
The 40-minute video, directed and produced by Dai Sugano and reported by de Sá, showed stories of former foster youth from California who were prescribed psychotropic drugs. It is featured as the last segment of a five-part series.
The series reported that 22 percent of foster youth between 12 and 18 years old in California are receiving psychotropic drugs.
These drugs, including Prozac, lithium and Risperdal, can be used to treat mental disorders but may have serious adverse impacts. According to a chart used in the series, weight gain, nausea, insomnia and suicidality can all be side effects of psychotropic drugs.
Former foster youth appearing in the video reported some of these side effects when taking their prescription psychotropic drugs. Some foster youth suspected that the drugs also had permanent effects on their brain and physical functions.
Medical experts in “Drugging Our Kids” stated concerns about over-prescription of psychotropic drugs and the process by which prescriptions are written.
These experts reported inaccurate diagnoses and suggested that unnecessary prescription of psychotropic drugs might be influenced by large pharmaceutical companies’ marketing strategies. Strategies can involve rewarding foster care doctors with money and gifts for prescribing specific psychotropic drugs to certain numbers of foster youth.
The video will be shown later this year at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and National Association of Children’s Counsel. Currently, it is being used for educational and training purposes for some judicial councils, court-appointed special advocates, university courses and social workers.
“Drugging Our Kids” has been recognized with eight total awards, including the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, National Press Photographers Association and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Since “Drugging Our Kids” was released, California’s Department of Health Care Services and Social Services created a new guideline requiring a state pharmacist to validate doctors’ prescriptions for foster youth.
Four additional bills concerning foster youth’s mental health are currently in California’s legislature. The bills, which already passed in the Senate, would increase governmental oversight of psychotropic prescriptions. Measures include reforming the court approval process for prescribing psychotropic medicine to foster youth and having public nurses monitor foster youth on psychotropic drugs.
“Drugging Our Kids” is an ongoing project. More coverage by de Sá of the bills and issue can be found here.
Meiling Bedard is a journalism intern for The Chronicle of Social Change and a junior at Boston University.