California Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Lack of Oversight of Psychotropic Medication Use in Foster Care

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scathing state audit on the widespread use of psychotropic medication in California’s foster care system will take center stage at a California Senate Oversight Committee hearing on Monday.

The audit found that California and its counties have “failed to adequately oversee the prescribing of these medications.” These  medications are used to treat mental illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

Foster children require more mental health services than their peers, according to the American Psychological Association, yet youth advocates say the drugs are over-prescribed.

"These are our state’s children," said Bill Grimm, senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law. "We take them away from their parents and we make a bargain and a promise that we will do better by these children and for too many foster children we don’t do that."

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Nearly 12 percent of California's foster youth are on psychotropic medications in comparison to 4-10 percent of youth who are not in the foster system, the report found.

While these medications can assist young people struggling with mental illness, the audit listed gaps in the oversight of medication use.

Many foster children did not receive recommended follow-up or complementary care, and at times counties failed to obtain required court or parental approval for children to take these medications, the audit said.

Some mental health officials said the report was flawed. California Psychiatric Association co-chair Dr. George Fouras said it's problematic to give significant weight to an audit created by actuaries and not doctors.

The hearing could put pressure on state agencies and the legislature to fill in the identified gaps in service. It also comes as three bills that would put into place some oversight measures for how  such drugs are prescribed to foster children await Gov. Jerry Brown's signature.

Tisha Ortiz, a former foster child who's now a 24-year-old college student, said she feels she was over-medicated in her childhood.

At 14, she was put on two antipsychotics, one mood stabilizer, and an antidepressant -- 12 pills a day.

"It basically felt like I was being heavily sedated as a chemical restraint," she said, adding that she felt doctors did not treat her underlying trauma.

Her medications caused side effects such as weight gain, an irregular heartbeat, and ticks throughout her body, she said.

Now as a young adult, she said she takes no medications and uses other therapeutic outlets like exercising and playing with her dog.

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