National Center for Youth Law Spearheading Campaign to End Overmedication of Foster Youth

The National Center on Youth Law (NCYL) is calling on foster youth, child welfare leaders and others involved in the lives of youth in care to join a campaign to end the excessive use of psychotropic drugs.

High doses of psychotropic  “antipsychotic” drugs produce lethargic, “zoned-out” children, preventing their development, according to the NCYL. In response, they are organizing a call for individuals who would like to contribute to an action aimed at getting the attention of state and federal governments.

“The federal government has announced it’s going to do something, and it’s never done anything before,” said Edward Opton of the NCYL.

In December of 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a review of nearly 100,000 foster children in five states found that prescription rates for foster children far exceeded the rates for other children in all five states.

The Obama Administration got out in front of that report. Before Thanksgiving, three top officials at HHS sent a letter to states informing them that the agency wanted to know more about what states were doing to monitor and control usage of psychiatric drugs with foster youths.

Prior to this, Obama signed the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act in September 2011, a bill that will allow ten states to receive a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to experiment with the use of their federal IV-E funds for foster care services.

“Waiver” states will have to select six specific improvements from a larger list to target; one of the options is developing “procedures for protecting foster care children from inappropriate use of psychotropic medications.”

Federal agencies have called for a conference in August 2012 to discuss the ongoing nationwide problem of overmedicated children in foster care. Six officials from each state, 300 total, will convene and discuss pervasive issues and plausible remedies.

“There is a window of opportunity now,” Opton said. “The federal government has heated up the iron so it’s best to strike while the iron is hot.”

Opton says if the conference and campaign prove successful, fewer psychotropic drugs will be administered, smaller dosages will be given, and less youth in care will be prescribed.

To participate, those interested can email psychmeds@youthlaw.org or call NCYL for ways to participate.

“If people and organizations outside of the government get involved in this, it will create a much better situation [for foster youth] in which change is better than staying where they are,” said Opton.

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