Dr. Phil's Plea to Congress

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INCONVENIENT YOUTH: THE OVERMEDICATION OF CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE

COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES

TESTIMONY BY DR. PHILLIP C. MCGRAW, PH.D.

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014

Chairman Reichert, Ranking Member Doggett and esteemed members of the Committee. I am honored to be invited to appear before you to participate in this critical discussion concerning the possible misuse of prescription psychotropic medications. These drugs are all too often prescribed to America’s foster children. I believe evidence shows these medications are too frequently, and sometimes even recklessly, prescribed to children in the foster care system and others with limited access to quality medical and psychological care.

Prescription psychotropic drugs can change and even save lives, but when it comes to these vulnerable children, these drugs are too often misused as “chemical straight jackets.” This is a haphazard attempt to simply control and suppress undesirable behavior, rather thantreat, nurture and develop these treasured young people.

It is well documented that compared with the child and adolescent population at large, children in our nation’s foster care system exhibit higher rates of emotional distress and mental illness. Sadly, they endure a far greater frequency and variety of horrific events, abuse, neglect, and trauma than children who live with intact families. Consequently, they experience increased educational and developmental deficits, and a higher frequency of diagnosed mental illness.

Approximately 20 percent of children in the general population are diagnosed with a mental disorder. In the foster care population, estimates are as high as 80 percent. We would certainly expect to see more of these children for whom psychotropic medication is appropriate, if not essential, but even then, there are grave concerns the evidence does not support the excessive prescribing pattern we see.

The reality is medication cannot put the psycho-social horse back in the barn. These kids deserve to live in safe environments where healthy behaviors are observed and modeled. A rush to medication creates a more manageable world for caregivers, teachers, and courts, but have we really helped these under-served children? Throwing drugs at the problem may make them “less inconvenient” in the moment, but is convenience a justification for higher rates of psychotropic drug therapy?

I pray to God the answer is no, no, no. Looking for a drug just because it is calming and constrictive is wrong on so many levels. Long-term solutions cannot and will not be found in a pill bottle. So how do we determine the appropriate and necessary use of prescription psychotropic drugs with these children?

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Such a great advocate! I did

mburgos's picture

Such a great advocate! I did not expect this from him!

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