Study: Foster Children Frequently Prescribed Antipsychotic Drugs

Foster children are prescribed strong antipsychotic drugs at rates that are similar to the most mentally disabled young people on Medicaid, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found.  The study found that three drugs in particular–Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa–are often prescribed in tandem, not for their antipsychotic effects, but as “major tranquilizers.”

Researchers expressed alarm that the drugs are being used to treat “troubled kids” who do not have the severe mental health disorders that would legitimately warrant heavy use of the medications.  Two percent of foster children are given some form of medication, the study reports, a number that is significantly different from the average number of children who are given diagnoses of schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder.

“We simply don’t have evidence to support this kind of use, especially in young children,” Susan dosReis, an associate professor in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the lead author, told The New York Times.

The Times reports that policy makers are taking action to stop this disturbing trend:

…The relatively high rates of these drug combinations in such a young and vulnerable group have prompted policy makers across the country to take notice. A consortium of 16 states, in collaboration with Rutgers University, has drawn up guidelines to improve care for foster children and others dependent on state aid.

“The psychiatrists who are treating these kids on the front lines are not doing it for money; there are very low reimbursement rates from Medicaid,” said Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a mental health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. “There’s enormous anguish because everyone knows that this is not what we should be doing for these kids. We as a society simply haven’t made the investment in psychosocial treatments, and so we are forced to rely on psychotropic drugs to carry the burden.”

Image:  Pill bottle, via Shutterstock.

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