A Lazy Quick Fix: Turning Children Into Zombies
Earlier this month, the findings were revealed of a two year government investigation on the overuse of psychotropic drugs for children in foster care. One of Delaware's own, Senator Tom Carper, pushed for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study and the results confirmed the fears and concerns of many. According to the investigation, foster care children are prescribed psychiatric medications up to five times more than children not in foster care. Perhaps more disturbing, these mind-altering drugs were also found to be prescribed at dosages not approved by the FDA, and to infants under the age of one! Children were also found to be on up to five psychotropic drugs at one time despite no evidence that the combination of drugs is effective for children. Essentially, foster care children are being treated carelessly like experiments or second class citizens compared to non-foster children. Psychiatric, or psychotropic, drugs are those that are prescribed for symptoms related to mental health, such as anxiety, depression, mood instability, and panic attacks. Common ones are Prozac, Zoloft, Abilify, Xanax, Paxil, Seroquel,...and the list goes on. Like all medications, there can often be negative side effects. Therapists such as myself cannot prescribe medication. Rather, this is left to medical doctors and nurse practitioners. However, my clients have often described to me the way these medications make them feel as "numb", "emotionless", and "like a zombie". The nature of the reason for any child being in foster care is abuse or neglect by their parent or caregiver that caused them to be removed from their home. By this fact alone, foster care children already experience higher incidents of trauma and then are exposed to even more trauma when they are moved multiple times to different foster homes. The odds have been stacked against these children and their mental health issues are understandable. Doping them up with medication to make their behaviors easier to manage, however, is the lazy cop out. It's the quick fix that in reality doesn't even fix anything at all. The real underlying problem of the child's trauma must be given attention instead of covering it up with medication. Less medication, and more counseling with a therapist to reach long term emotional healing is the better answer. This doesn't mean medication is never appropriate, because at times medications can be helpful to children and adults alike...but as a last resort or supplement to therapy, not as a treatment choice disproportionately for foster children because it is less time consuming than therapy. Obtaining mental health therapy for a child can be easier said than done however, as many areas experience a shortage of mental health professionals that provide child counseling. Slower lower Delaware is no exception, as many counseling agencies and therapists have a waiting list. Although I cannot speak for all medical providers in my state, I am grateful that the handful of psychiatrists and pediatricians in my local area are known, at least in my professional experience with them, to stress the importance of therapy to patients instead of always reaching for their prescription pad. For that, I commend them and hope for this to become a new trend in our country soon. Although the government's entire written report is long and a bit cumbersome to read, it is available to the public and can be seen HERE.