In the series Abused and Used, New York Times reporter Danny Hakim and a host of his colleagues have been investigating how public resources are used to treat developmentally disabled New Yorkers. The series is ongoing, but hit an inflection point with the publication of Hakim’s piece on the few-strings-attached use of very powerful drugs to treat some of the state’s most vulnerable adult residents.
Developmental disabilities, Hakim writes, often manifest themselves in ways that are easily mistaken for mental illness, and these misdiagnoses can lead to unnecessary or improper medication. “In fact,” Hakim writes, “developmentally disabled residents of group homes in New York are more likely to be given Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug that has a tranquilizing effect, than multivitamins, the records show.”
Hakim’s reporting is rich with both anecdotes and data. These paragraphs from the series will give you an idea of how he approached the issue.
Tens of thousands of powerful pills created to treat serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia are given to developmentally disabled people in the care of New York State every day.
…a review by The Times of previously unreleased records, as well as interviews with state employees, clinicians, family members and outside experts, reveals that the psychotropic medications, which alter the brain’s chemistry, are often dispensed sloppily, without rigorous or regular review, by general practitioners with little expertise in the area.
And low-level workers at state group homes are frequently given discretion to increase the medication “as needed,” despite their lack of significant training.
Psychologists who have worked inside the system describe a culture in which the drugs are used to control the disruptive behavior of the developmentally disabled — people with conditions like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy — an approach increasingly discredited in the field.