A national foundation focused on child welfare is footing at least $75,000 of the bill to figure out the best way to conduct an independent clinic exam of children taking mind-altering drugs.
Better oversight of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and other psychotropic medications given to foster children is expected to reduce their usage — and their hefty price tag.
“You are going to save money, and you’re going to provide good medical care,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.
The state spends $7.87 million a year on psychotropic medications, according to Medicaid records. More than a third of foster children are prescribed the drugs, compared with about 4 percent of the general youth population.
Oliver first tried to tackle the problem with a bill this past legislative session. Republicans and Democrats lauded the idea but raised questions about how to pay for setting up a program.
House Bill 23 was put on hold, open for review next year, once it became clear that Casey Family Programs would step forward with money to develop the pilot program.
The foundation is also providing staff to work with state mental health experts and child advocates to figure out what should flag a review, such as children on multiple medications that do the same thing or children too young to be on certain drugs.
“All too often medications can be the first and only solution, and that in and of itself isn’t a solution,” said Page Walley, a clinical psychologist who heads Casey’s strategic consulting arm. “Georgia is really taking the lead on this and could create a system that can be repeated across the nation.”
Those working on the system are expected to develop a draft plan by late summer. The team includes Human Services Commissioner Clyde Reese, Melissa Carter of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University, and Michelle Barclay with the state Supreme Court.
Gov. Nathan Deal, himself a former juvenile court judge, also has met with the team and expressed an interest in the issue.
“The governor looks forward to seeing how [this] unfolds,” Deal spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield said.
That level of attention alone could lead to changes. Georgia has so far avoided a high-profile death like that of a 7-year-old foster boy who killed himself in Florida while taking three powerful psychotropic medications. None of the drugs Gabriel Myers was on had had been approved for use in children.
Still, a 2010 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed several companies operating foster care homes in the state had repeatedly used psychotropic medications to “subdue” children.
“If anything, we’ve now got people talking about how a child ends up on a third medication or what it means to be on multiple drugs,” Barclay said. “It’s a starting point. We’re going to experiment and see how far it goes.”
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