Kifuji on the Defense

April 14, 2010 at 10:47 am 4 comments

The controversial Dr. Kifuji, prescribing psychiatrist for Rebecca Riley, appears to have evaded any criminal responsibility by exchanging her testimony for immunity. She is, however, up against a malpractice suit and some of the things that have come up are startling in terms of just how Rebecca’s very early death transpired and the role Kifuji played in all of it. I know I’ve brought up the doctor’s role in this before but every new fact that comes out is more frightening and infuriating than the last.

The Patriot Ledger ran an article that covers many of the almost too-bad-to-be-true circumstances that point to the fact that if Rebecca and Dr. Kifuji had never met, Rebecca might still be here. Regardless of your opinions on children and drugs, this case was wrong all around and the result of at least three people’s indefensible actions. Kifuji was more a drug dealer than a psychiatrist and while that’s not particularly uncommon, the young ages of her patients makes her a standout, even among the over-drugging crowd and the predictable end result in Rebecca’s case shows her to be  both reckless and ill qualified.

From the Patriot Ledger article:

Years before she became a board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji was diagnosing children as young as 2 as bipolar and hyperactive – and prescribing powerful cocktails of mood-altering drugs to quiet them.

By the time Kifuji finally passed the psychiatric board exam – on her fourth try – one of her youngest patients, Rebecca Riley, had a little more than a year to live.

The lack of involvement on Kifuji’s part was shocking. She saw Rebecca primarily for twenty minute sessions to adjust doses. Often she just used these sessions to put on paper her approval for the adjustments her mother was already making, having increased doses on her own and experimented with drug cocktails using drugs prescribed (also by Kifuji) to Rebecca’s siblings.

She relied almost exclusively on what Carolyn told her about the kids when diagnosing them and ordering increasing amounts of drugs for them.

Kifuji also trusted the mother to keep tabs on Rebecca’s heart rate and blood pressure for signs of problems with the four drugs she was on. Kifuji, a pediatrician who later became a psychiatrist, told Novotny during the deposition that she didn’t realize she had a blood pressure cuff in her office and could check the girl’s vital signs herself until after Rebecca was dead. She said she didn’t take Rebecca’s pulse with her fingers because Carolyn Riley told her the child’s pulse “was within normal range.”

Even a well intentioned mother shouldn’t be solely in charge of monitoring a child’s heart rate and blood pressure let alone a woman hell bent on gaining access to more and stronger drugs at the expense of her daughter’s health. Also, any pediatrician turned psychiatrist should think of performing such simple tasks as second nature. If not that, then what is a doctor for? How do you not even know you have basic medical equipment in your office? How does a doctor fail to check a child’s pulse? Oh, that’s right — her mother said. If that’s all there is to doctoring, it’s no wonder some might see her as just a drug dispenser. They can do the rest at home, it’s a mere technicality that you must be licensed to prescribe.

  • Asked why she didn’t report Carolyn Riley to child welfare authorities after learning that the mother had increased the children’s doses at least twice without checking with her first, Kifuji said: “I just can’t report to the DSS. I need to … my role is to work with the parent and not judging them.”
  • Asked if she ever told Carolyn not to give Rebecca cold medicine on top of all the drugs the child was on, Kifuji says no, “but it’s because Rebecca didn’t get sick, and I was never asked ”

Right — let a mother chemically abuse and experiment on a child but whatever you do, don’t judge and certainly don’t  give them any more information than they asked for. The article goes on to point out other times that Kifuji refilled prescriptions before they should have run out, never asking for an explanation, just dishing out more and more drugs.

She prescribed clonidine – the drug that killed Rebecca – during the child’s first visit to control the “impulsivity” that Carolyn Riley described. Rebecca was 2 at the time.

Impulsivity at two hardly makes a child a psychiatric oddity but when you look at some of her notes regarding Rebecca’s apparently troubling behavior it’s easy to get the notion that Kifuji sees childhood as a disorder unto itself.

“Then consistently hyper all the time. Climbs up to top of jungle gym without any fears and thinking. Gets into everything. Just walk up to someone and smack them. Never gets aggressive. Hits kicks and spits when she’s being disciplined and laughs. Started to say things scared her. Whines and fusses a lot.”

Kifuji described the toddler as dysarthric, meaning she could not properly pronounce some words.

“A bit tired since yesterday. Coming down on flu. Fine as long as she takes clonidine. Sleeps throughout. Without clonidine gets very hyper and impulsive.”

“Climbs up on top of bureau. Tantrums or sobbing when she was told to clean up her toys” and “she wasn’t listening to her mother.”

This child was drugged for one reason — she was stricken with a case of toddlerhood. Dr. Kifuji seems to see no distinction between behavior and disease. Now that psychiatry has largely gotten away from talk therapy, we’re supposed to see psychiatrists as doctors of the brain — linking behavior to dysfunction in the brain. If that’s the case, Kifuji doesn’t make it very well. She’s like a mad scientist but without the science.

She explained that some researchers believe the area of the brain called the amygdala is different in people with bipolar disease. But she admitted she didn’t know where the amygdala is in the brain.

Of course you don’t need to know the brain at all to dispense drugs in the manner that Kifuji had begun making a career of (there is a timeline of Rebecca’s “treatment” at the bottom of the article). You only need to know that if you sedate a child enough, you can drug the behavior out of them. Sure, that child may be a “floppy doll” sitting in the corner but a quiet floppy doll and certainly not disruptive and if enough people will pay you to drug the childhood out of their children to one extent or another, then you’re in business.

Yes, the parents physically gave the drugs to Rebecca but they were used as a weapon and that weapon was provided by Dr. Kifuji. If she had given them a blackjack instead and told them how many times you have to hit a kid for effective behavioral treatment, this would be a different case entirely. Our view of prescribed medicine as care makes us resistant to the notion that drugs can be poison but they clearly can be and often are, particularly with psych drugs. When this happens, we need to respond accordingly.

There are no less than three guilty parties here in a case of chemical assault that ended in a child’s death. It’s bad enough that Dr. Kifuji was granted immunity making it impossible to hold her criminally accountable, even as more facts come to light pointing to her role not in anything resembling care but in a death. If she is not held civilly and professionally accountable, we’re saying her actions are acceptable, even desirable and we’re signing off on a prescription for some seriously detrimental treatment. I’m relieved to see she’s at least going to be made to answer for her actions. She’s certainly got a lot to answer for in this suit. Now we’ll have to wait and see what passes as accountability these days.

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4 Comments

  • 1. Susannah  |  November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Wonderful writing

  • 2. Methodius Isaac Bonkers, M.D.  |  March 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    We’re so favorably impressed by your analysis that we now link to “Kifuji on the Defense” on our home page.

    Keep up the good work!

    Methodius Isaac Bonkers, M.D.
    Institute for Nearly Genuine Research
    http://www.bonkersinstitute.org

  • 3. Bobsy  |  March 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Harrowing story, these psychiatrists are the biggest pushermen of all

  • 4. Lulu  |  November 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

    It seems logical that any child being brought for therapy would prompt the analyst to consider the child’s environment as a possible cause. IMO the biggest culprit here is the child’s mother, who was drugging all her children. That fact alone should have set off at least some red lights. And the first time she upped the child’s dosage should have been a serious alarm.

    When you consider that the parents choose their childen’s medical professionals, and it certainly appears that this mother liked the style of this psychiatrist, you have to consider that the pairing was a cocktail for disaster from the onset.

    When I had my second child, I was requred by my state to sign a form stating that I was aware that children need to be spoken to and interacted with. To this day ( that child is 16) I can’t get my mind around the need for such a thing. And yet… I know a LARGE number of children who are taken, still asleep and in their pajamas, to daycare, and then picked up, dosing, still in those pj’s at the end of the long day. My daughter learned in school this year that 60% of teens have a total of 5 minutes of meaningful coversation with their parents per WEEK. Is it any wonder that adults are drugging their children, if they don’t CARE enough to do more than this?

    If I were a pediatrician, I’d have social questions for the parent each visit. Get them to discuss some of the activities they engaged in with their child. That would give them a sense of what level of investment the parent had in that child.

    At least this child was so drugged she probably never realised how abused she was. Small mercies…


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