Fla. juvenile justice system relies on heavy antipsychotic use

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In looking into the state Department of Juvenile Justice’s use of powerful prescription antipsychotics, The Palm Beach Post‘s Michael LaForgia “analyzed department drug purchasing information and state Medicaid billing data and reviewed thousands of pages of DJJ inspection reports, drug company disclosure records and court documents.” It shows, as he surfaces with some powerful numbers and equally alarming anecdotes (Part 1, Part 2, Infographic).

…in state-run jails and residential programs, antipsychotics were among the top drugs bought for kids – and they routinely were doled out for reasons that never were approved by federal regulators, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.

A key concern is that the prescriptions may be driven by their improper use as chemical restraints, or by the hefty speaker (and related) fees being paid from pharmaceutical companies to the most prolific prescription writers. Unfortunately, specifics are hard to come by as most homes are run by private contractors and the state doesn’t have the resources for close monitoring. For this story, the reporters were only able to obtain two years worth of data for 25 jails and three programs – a fraction of the statewide total. Those data still paint what LaForgia calls a “startling story.”

A look at the sheer numbers of drugs purchased … suggests a startling story is unfolding in state homes for wayward kids.

In 2007, for example, DJJ bought more than twice as much Seroquel as ibuprofen. Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children.

That’s enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day.

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