Jurors Speak Up with Hands Tied

February 13, 2010 at 9:48 am 1 comment

In a break from the typical dismissive response to death by psych drugs, which is to assume everybody did their best and a bad but faultless thing happened, jurors in the Carolyn Riley case are outraged at the conduct of Dr. Kayoko Kifuji. Rightly so. Kifuji diagnosed children as mentally ill for exhibiting the defining behaviors of childhood. She Diagnosed a three year old child with pediatric bipolar disorder (which was absent from the DSM draft released the day after the conviction). She passed out cocktails of serious drugs to two year old children like they were Flintstone’s vitamins — drugs that aren’t approved for use in children and are usually used judiciously even in adults. She let the parents experiment on all of their kids with these drugs and, following their lead, prescribed per those experiments — so yes, the jury was outraged.

From the Boston Globe:

“Every one of us was very angry,’’ said one juror, who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation for her role in Tuesday’s second-degree murder conviction of Carolyn Riley. “Dr. Kifuji should be sitting in the defendant’s chair, too.’’

Another juror said that while the 12-member panel found that the 35-year-old mother was primarily responsible for Rebecca’s death, many jurors were “off the wall’’ when they heard the testimony of Dr. Kayoko Kifuji of Tufts Medical Center. She said they were struck by how quickly Kifuji diagnosed Rebecca with bipolar and hyperactivity disorders, as well as how little the doctor seemed to supervise the mother’s dispensing of medications.

“It blew me away,’’ said that juror, who asked to remain unidentified for fear of reprisals.

Rebecca’s psychiatrist was the focus of some of the most powerful reactions from the jurors after a three-week trial that left them emotionally and physically exhausted.

Not only has she not been convicted of a crime, she will go undisciplined by courts and the medical establishment even outside of the criminal trials surrounding the Rebecca Riley case which can only add to the frustrated outrage of the jurors.

Other than the nationwide publicity given to the Riley case, in which Kifuji is mentioned repeatedly, the only overt sign that Kifuji had potentially questionable conduct is on the Board of Registration of Medicine’s website…Still, when asked if the board’s investigation concluded that Kifuji acted within acceptable medical standards, spokesman Russell Aims responded by saying that the board “closed the complaint against Dr. Kifuji without discipline.’’ He said the board, however, “reserves the right to reopen a case if new information comes to light.’’

The psychiatrist will not face criminal prosecution. A grand jury last summer declined to indict her, and Kifuji testified in Carolyn Riley’s trial only after being granted immunity from prosecution.

Prosecutors contend the Rileys “duped” Kifuji into authorizing the drugs but that doesn’t say much for her as a doctor does it? “Duped” doesn’t begin to explain diagnosing toddlers as bipolar, her cavalier approach to diagnosing and prescribing in general or her indifference to the misuse of drugs like depakote and clonidine. Kifuji had access to Rebecca herself, providing ample opportunity to make her own assessments. She chose instead to go on the word of the parents in brief and drug centered visits. She admitted that she found the Rileys’ actions unsettling. Maybe they were just not unsettling enough to interfere with business. While the prosecution and Kifuji’s lawyers tried to paint her as the good and upstanding doctor who got fooled, in the end she comes out looking like the prime example of psychiatrist-as-drug-dealer — not unlike the physician in every town that addicts know to visit for his liberal dispensing of narcotics — and the Rileys were repeat business. If you’re going to hand out drugs that easily, without concern for how they’re being used and on whom, you don’t get to claim ignorance.

In a country where a gun manufacturer or salesperson can be held responsible for the crimes of someone who legally buys or even steals a handgun (which I’m against), it’s shocking that Kifuji is able to walk away from this without penalty. She is a doctor and with that paycheck and perceived authority comes an obligation to think past the drugs that keep you in business and consider the well being of the people in your care. I sincerely hope her other child patients fare better but it doesn’t seem likely. The only things that seem to have changed for Kifuji since Rebecca’s death are the amount of attention she’s received and a new sense of impunity.

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1 Comment

  • 1. Claudia M. Gold, MD  |  February 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    The problem is that our culture, under the influence of the pharmaceutical industry and health insurance industry, condones the use of psychoactive medication for very young children. The research that offers meaningful alternative approaches to helping troubled families has a tiny voice in the face of these powerful influences. I hope that DSM-V, with the addtion of the Temperment Dysregulation diagnosis, can begin to move things in a different direction, though only if it is a part of a complete rethinking of how we offer help to struggling families. I address this issue in greater detail in a recent post on my blog Child In MInd http://claudiamgoldmd.blogspot.com/2010/02/dsm-v-and-riley-murder-conviction.html


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