Oregon Legislature to hold hearings on foster children, meds


The Legislature will hold hearings in February on the use of psychiatric drugs given to foster children in Oregon, a leader says.

The Oregonian newspaper reported Sunday that during one 12-month period nearly 30 percent of the children in foster care got drugs such as Ritalin, prescribed for attention deficit disorders, or the anti-depressants Prozac and Zoloft. That amounted to about 2,400 children.

The state doesn't supervise the drugs closely, it said, and the foster care system gives parents an incentive, double payments, to have children on psychiatric drugs and be designated as having "special needs."

In response, Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem promised hearings on how the Department of Human Services oversees the use of mental health medications among foster children.

He said he was appalled that little attention is paid a law passed in 1993 requiring foster parents to notify the department when a child gets such drugs. And, he said, the Legislature has to better supervise the human services agency.

"We have to find out what the hell we're dealing with," he told the paper.

Experts say the drugs can help troubled children in foster care, who often face higher rates of mental problems and who have faced grave abuse and neglect or were exposed to drugs and alcohol before they were born.

A panel formed in 2004 after judges and other Oregon court officials raised questions said parents shouldn't be able to ask a doctor to prescribe psychiatric medications without state consent, but the state didn't adopt that recommendation.

In May, the state adopted some of the panel's other recommendations, requiring more second medical opinions, for example. Dr. Bruce Goldberg, the director of the department, asked for a review of the rules and concluded they need to be even more stringent.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, chairwoman of the House human services committee, said she was alarmed that the state has just one nurse for medical reviews.

"It's understandable these children have their own sets of problems, and they might be on medications," Tomei said. "What's appalling to me are the sheer number of children on several drugs, and that the state seems to have no oversight."

Gov. Ted Kulongoski supports the department's internal review and the legislative hearings, said spokeswoman Patty Wentz, "and will review the findings carefully."

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