University of Southern California

Psychotropic Medication and Foster Care Children: A Prescription for State Oversight

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Note by Michelle L. Mello
From Volume 85, Number 2 (January, 2012)

On April 16, 2009, seven-year-old Gabriel Myers locked himself in the bathroom of his Florida foster home and took his own life. Just three weeks prior, Myers was prescribed Symbyax, a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) for use in children. Myers’s Department of Children & Families (“DCF”) records document a tragic history of neglect, allegations of sexual abuse, and movement between at least four foster care placements after removal from his mother’s care. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mood disorder, and possibly depression, Myers took several medications including Lexapro and Vyvanse. After his death, DCF appointed a Work Group to assess Myers’s case as well as the use of psychotropic medication for other children in state foster care. While the Work Group determined that safeguards in Florida existed, the “core failures in the system . . . stem[med] from lack of compliance with [such safeguards] and . . . failures in communication, advocacy, supervision, monitoring, and oversight.”

Giovan Bazan was only six-years-old when he was first treated with medication for hyperactivity. Years later, while taking Ritalin at a double dosage, he was prescribed an antidepressant after another physician saw him “so mellowed out that he barely reacted.” Twenty-year-old Bazan is now free of all medications and recognizes that “[t]hey start you on one thing for a problem, then the side effects mean you need a new medicine . . . [a]s a foster kid, I’d go between all these doctors, caseworkers, therapists, and [it] seemed like every time there was a new drug to try me on.”

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