More antipsychotics prescribed to foster children

Need To Know, the PBS newsmagazine, recently took a look at the use of antipsychotics in foster children. Shoshana Guy’s piece opens with an anecdote about one 10-year-old foster child (now adopted) in Texas and expands from there. In nine years as a ward of the state, the boy was prescribed 20 different drugs by nine different doctors. After his adoption, a new, private physician diagnosed him only with ADHD, treatable with a single medication.

Antipsychotics are designed primarily to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, diseases which affect about 3 percent of the population. Yet somehow, they’re the top selling class of drugs in the United States with $14.6 billion in sales in 2009.

Specific numbers on foster children are hard to come by, but the 2010 paper cited in the broadcast, Antipsychotic Medication use in Medicaid Children and Adolescents (48-page PDF), is a good start. Broader forces, such as pharmaceutical marketing and the increasing frequency of mental illness diagnoses for children are at work here, Guy found, but that doesn’t mean that the foster care environment itself isn’t also a factor. It’s a system in which people are frequently looking for ways to “manage” problematic children. Judging by a companion post on Need to Know, this sounds like a story that will develop significantly in the coming year.

…foster care children are prescribed drugs at a rate much greater than that of other kids. Concern over their well-being — not to mention the amount it costs to treat them — has prompted the Government Accountability Office to investigate potentially abusive prescribing practices in America’s state foster care systems. The GAO findings are expected to come out later this year.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

You can find Need to Know’s health stories on this landing page, but as of yet I haven’t been able to find a health-specific RSS feed.

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