From The Imprint: Youth and Family News: “They use the words ‘zombie,’ ‘a blob’ and ‘drunk’ when describing what it felt like to be a kid in foster care, prescribed mind-numbing psychiatric drugs to overcome childhood trauma.

Now, according to a new peer-reviewed study, children in the nation’s largest foster care system are being given powerful antipsychotic medications far less frequently, following a slate of legislative reforms in California, stricter controls on pharmacy dispensing and heightened media attention.

‘By reducing these prescriptions for the children who don’t need them, California may have given them more opportunities to thrive,’ said Julio Nunes, lead author of the July journal article on the state’s prescribing patterns. ‘If they are not numbed, they can pay more attention in school and with friends, and have more meaningful conversations about their trauma with trusted professionals. That all increases their potential for growth.’

Psychiatric drugs, known broadly as psychotropics, have long been relied on in foster care systems to blunt acting-out behaviors and numb the emotional impacts of childhood trauma. But combinations of multiple drugs, high dosages and the subgroup of medications called antipsychotics can compound the pain. These particularly potent [drugs] . . . often saddle children with diabetes, irreversible tremors and obesity.

Nunes’ article in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology shows that over the span of a decade, the number of antipsychotic prescriptions filled for abused and neglected children in California dropped 58% statewide, and 64% in Los Angeles County. The downward trend between 2011 and 2020 held true across every foster care age group, children of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, and all regions of California. Declines were most pronounced for children younger than 10.

‘This is a powerful study,’ said Jennifer Havens, chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine . . .

‘The treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder-related stuff, and all trauma-related challenges, is psychotherapy — that’s the evidence-based treatment for these kids,’ Havens said. ‘But we also use antipsychotics quite commonly for kids who are just angry, which is despicable.’

Still, much remains unknown about which pharmaceuticals may have replaced antipsychotics, and whether foster children who remain on the drugs for emotional disturbances are being properly screened for side effects.

. . . State officials were prompted to act by a 2014 Bay Area News Group investigation [‘Drugging Our Kids’] into the excessive use of psychiatric drugs on California foster children, and the prescribing physicians’ close financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The series led to the passage of six state laws, improved tracking of medication use and state medical board oversight, as well as new requirements for judges, social workers, public health nurses, pharmacists and clinicians.”

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