The publication of the investigative series “Drugging Our Kids” in the San Jose Mercury is having an immediate impact on California’s efforts to rein in dangerous prescribing of psychotropic medications to children in foster care. The series has already resulted in an investigation by the California State Medical Board into whether some doctors are “operating outside the standard of reasonable care”. The Board launched its investigation in response to a letter from State Senator Ted Lieu that was produced as a result of the first Mercury story. In Los Angeles, County Supervisors reacted to the series by requesting two County Departments to produce reports on the usage of psych drugs to treat mental health issues. And perhaps most impressively the state of California, three years after launching an effort to revise protocols and procedures governing the use of psychotropic medication on children in foster care, has finally released its first new regulation requiring doctors to get extra authorization to prescribe antipsychotics to this vulnerable population.
In the days following the publication of the first story in the series, The National Youth Law Center (NCYL), advocate and former foster youth Rochelle Trochtenberg and the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) provided a status briefing to the State’s Child Welfare Council. Kimberly Kirchmeyer, the Executive Director of the State Medical Board attended personally.
At the meeting there was considerable discussion about the availability of data on the administration of psychotropic medication to foster youth. The data is vital to an informed discussion of this issue. The State has contended that it is precluded by privacy restrictions from making this data available even to its own expert panel. NCYL provided an opinion that the data can be provided by following the process established in the guidelines for the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data. DHCS however continues to contend that it can’t make any more data available. NCYL submitted a letter explaining how the state can share aggregate medication prescription data without compromising the privacy of children in foster care and will continue to work with DHCS to overcome any legal barriers to sharing the information.