OLYMPIA – Washington’s foster care system forces too many children to take mind-altering drugs, mental health experts told state legislators Friday.
They supported a bill that would require foster homes to get a second opinion before giving children certain drugs. Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, the bill covers any drug used to treat depression, psychotic or manic conditions, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“I think we have an obligation as a state, because they are our children, to ensure all of those prescriptions are appropriate and necessary,” said Kagi, D-Seattle.
A 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office found more than one-fourth of foster children were prescribed a mind-altering drug. That’s nearly five times the prescription rate among non-foster children.
“There’s no doubt that many children in the foster care system have behavioral health challenges,” said Dr. Eric Trupin, a University of Washington psychiatrist. “However, they need to be provided with a range of services beyond just psychiatric medications.”
The bill, which is expected to come to a vote next week in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, also requires foster children who are prescribed psychiatric drugs to receive behavioral therapy. But Laurie Lippold, of the advocacy group Partners for Our Children, said it could be harmful to require therapy as some children simply won’t cooperate.
With current staffing levels in the foster care system, it might be difficult to get a second opinion right away, said Charissa Fotinos, the deputy chief medical officer for the state Health Care Authority. She recommended giving small amounts of the drugs while waiting for a second opinion.
Stephen Greer, a public defender from Kitsap County, said foster children often suffer from too much or too little medication. “It leads to them leaving foster homes, running from foster homes. It leads to inpatient care that shouldn’t happen, and it leads them to the streets.”
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