A Senseless Passing, Reckless Drugging and a Strongly Worded Letter

March 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

I don’t have the time or energy to really delve into these intertwining stories so I’m just touching on them and providing links but I do think we should be paying attention to what is allowed to pass for care in this country and what is allowed to pass for accountability.

Florida has a terrible track record, pumping its youth and especially its children in foster care, full of pyschotropic drugs. Foster children in Florida are drugged about three times as much as children outside of the system. These drugs have  serious negative effects on developing minds and bodies and one of those effects is suicidal ideation. With that many kids drugged down and such extreme responses, it’s painfully obvious that many of those children are going to suffer terrible outcomes.

This was never more true than in the heart breaking story of Gabriel Myers, a child just seven years old who committed suicide by hanging while on a cocktail of psychotropic drugs including Seroquel. Seven years old. Suicide at that age is unnatural. A child that age taking his own life has been failed by somebody — maybe everybody. It took a long time in my mind to get to even thinking about what this says about broken systems, medication, responsibility and social failure — all I could think about was what a terribly sad, troubled and short life Gabriel had.

Florida’s response? From a CBS News article that does go on to present some critical views of the use of psych drugs in children:

The apparent suicide of 7-year-old boy Gabriel Myers, who was taking several psychiatric medications, has led to the introduction of a bill in the Florida legislature, which would assure that powerful mental health drugs dispensed to Florida foster care children would be more closely monitored…

The bill requires caregivers and doctors to report any adverse side effects, which DCF must document.

The bill also requires children to have a mental health treatment plan that includes counseling for children prescribed such drugs.

Monitoring? We need more than paperwork. Keeping track of your failures and an immediate reversal of your direction are two different things. Gabriel’s prescribing psychiatrist, Sohail Punjwani, is tied to a string of kids drugged down on powerful psychotropics and having horrible negative effects — facing everything from sedation and dizziness to hallucinations, suicidal urges and death either at their own hands or from the drugs directly and while he’s not the only one, he’s certainly at the center of the situation. It’s okay though. He got a strongly worded letter: From the Miami Herald:

A South Florida psychiatrist who was treating a 7-year-old foster child before the boy committed suicide last year has received a warning from federal drug regulators who say he failed “to protect the rights, safety and welfare” of children enrolled in clinical drug trials.

In a strongly worded letter dated Feb. 4, regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Dr. Sohail Punjwani over-medicated children who were enrolled in clinical trials for undisclosed drugs. One girl, the letter said, slashed her wrists while hallucinating.

A strongly worded letter? Strongly worded letters are written in response to bad stays in hotels not children dying at the hands of their reckless doctor. Surely, showing a complete disregard for the safety of your youngest patients warrants more than a letter. But then, it seems disregard for patient safety is just the tip of a particularly damaging iceberg. It would appear as though Punjwani, so far without interference from any overseeing agency, may have been using foster children in clinical trials. If that’s the case, the problem is systemic.

If experimenting on kids is the lowest of the low, I don’t even know what to say about hand selecting discarded or displaced children for a pseudo-science project. It is a clear use of a person’s social viability to define them as candidates for clinical trials.  You will never see a news report of senators’ children being hand picked for psychiatric experiments. With or without the pretense of clinical trials, children in this country have become the little white mice in psychiatry’s living lab and all too often their real lives are the mazes we watch them stagger through. That’s not good enough.

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