Taxpayer money used to overmedicate foster children

Kids & Meds
Kids & Meds

Children in foster care in five states are taking psychotropic drugs at a rate "two to over four times higher" than non-foster children in Medicaid according to a draft of a new government reportobtained by CBS News.

Data in the new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that in the five states examined, 609 foster children and over 1,100 non-foster children were taking five or more psychotropic drugs at one time, a "high-risk practice" that lacks sufficient scientific data, according to experts consulted for the study. The report also found that over 20,000 foster and non-foster children were taking dosages that "exceeded the maximum standards published in medical literature."

Read a draft of the GAO report

Psychotropic drugs are used to treat mental disorders in adults and in some cases are approved for use in children. Data from five states: Oregon, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan and Texas was included in the report.

"The GAO report will hopefully spur states to strengthen their oversight and control over the effective management of psychotropic medications prescribed to youth in foster care," said Dr. Mark Olfson, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University who authored the key 2009 study on foster children and anti-psychotic use, "For foster children with psychiatric disorders, careful medication management strategies are central to improving quality of care," he said.

Almost 40 percent of children in the Massachusetts foster care system are taking at least one psychotropic drug according to the report that is raising concerns among officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a recent letter to state Medicaid directors obtained by CBS News, the head of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families said the agency has become "increasingly concerned about the safe, appropriate and effective use of psychotropic medications among children in foster care."

The report also found almost 4,000 foster and non-foster care infants - under a year old - on Medicaid in five states were taking psychotropic drugs. Researchers said the risks these drugs pose to children are "not well understood".

The five states in the report spent $375 million for psychotropic prescriptions for children covered by Medicaid including $59 million for children in foster care.

The GAO report will be the subject of a Senate hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill.