NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Foster Children Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs More Frequently than Non-Foster Children

December 6, 2011

The federal government has not done enough to oversee the treatment of America's foster children with powerful mind-altering drugs, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.  The report, based on a two-year-long investigation, looked at five states -- Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas.  Thousands of foster children were being prescribed psychiatric medications at doses higher than the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in these five states alone, says ABC News.

  • Overall, the GAO looked at nearly 100,000 foster children in the five states and found that nearly one-third of foster children were prescribed at least one psychiatric drug.
  • The GAO found foster children were prescribed psychotropic drugs at rates up to nearly five times higher than non-foster children.
  • While only 4 percent of children in the general population are on psychiatric medications, several research studies show that this rate is 13 times higher for foster children.

Furthermore, the GAO study found hundreds of foster children received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time despite absolutely no evidence supporting the simultaneous use or safety of this number of psychiatric drugs taken together.

  • In Texas, foster children were 53 times more likely to be prescribed five or more psychiatric medications at the same time than non-foster children.
  • In Massachusetts, they were 19 times more likely.
  • In Michigan, the number was 15 times.
  • The five states together in the GAO study spent an aggregate $375 million on psychiatric medications in 2008, with $200 million of that money being spent in Texas alone.

Source: Dr. Mark Abdelmalek et al., "New Study Shows U.S. Government Fails to Oversee Treatment of Foster Children With Mind-Altering Drugs," ABC News, November 30, 2011.  "Foster Children: HHS Guidance Could Help States Improve Oversight of Psychotropic Prescriptions," U.S. Government Accountability Office, December 1, 2011.

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