California State Regulators Blocking Excessive Prescribing for Foster and Low-Income Kids

By McCarton Ackerman 03/13/15

State regulators are curbing the excessive prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to disadvantaged kids.

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California state regulators are taking a stand against the excessive prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs by rejecting thousands of requests from physicians to medicate poor children and foster youth.

About 18% of the requests for these medications were denied last January due to being medically unnecessary or unsubstantiated, tripling the rate of denials from last October. Requests for anti-psychotics also dropped from 16,915 to 6,950 during this same time period, with thousands of these requests also being deferred due to a need for additional information to be approved.

Since last October, prescribers in the state have been required to more specifically demonstrate a need for these drugs to be administered to patients ages 17 or younger, including administering a diagnosis and medical rationale to a team of state pharmacists. This previously only needed to be done for patients ages five and younger.

The San Jose Mercury News recently completed a yearlong investigation called Drugging Our Kids, which found that 62% of California foster kids over the last decade had been prescribed anti-psychotic medications, including 4,000 in 2014 alone. These heavily sedating medications can be particularly damaging for young people and lead to obesity, diabetes, and uncontrollable tremors. Foster youth were also given the drugs at far higher rates than poor kids.

Some physicians, however, are opposed to the new measures. Saul Wasserman, a leader of the California Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, believes the new restrictions are a “shotgun” approach to problems that should be addressed on a more individual basis. Lawyer and lobbyist James Gross has also called on state officials to withdraw the new policy because it lacks “any reasoned, detailed rationale.”

Many youth advocates are in partial agreement with Wasserman, supporting the new protocol while also believing that issues with foster youth go beyond prescriptions. The National Center for Youth Law is pushing for reforms that include better monitoring of kids given psychiatric medications, training for caregivers in working with children without using these medications, and creating treatments for traumatized children that don't involve medication.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.