Three years after joining forces to address the alarming use of psychotropic medications in California’s foster care system, a high-level group of health care officials, attorneys and public policy leaders on Friday unveiled a sweeping set of guidelines for doctors who prescribe the powerful drugs to some of the state’s most traumatized children.
The nonbinding directive calls on physicians to offer non-drug therapies; to give preference to medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on children; and to keep dosages to a minimum with a “start low and go slow” approach. It discourages the use of two or more meds, and suggests doctors periodically wean children off the mind-altering drugs altogether.
The state’s first comprehensive effort to address the issue comes after this newspaper’s series “Drugging Our Kids” showed California’s foster care system has come to rely on psychiatric drugs to manage behavior — often prescribing them in heavy doses, for long periods of time, and for conditions other than the serious mental illnesses they were designed to treat. The new guidelines specifically state: “Psychotropic medications should not be used for the purpose of discipline or chemical restraint, except as acutely necessary in true psychiatric emergencies.”
While many youth advocates applauded the recommendations as long overdue, they say legislation in the works is needed to ensure reforms are put into practice.