Psychotropic Drug Reform Via Legislation: California

Reducing harm to children from excessive use of psychotropic medications may require action at multiple levels, state legislatures included.

In California, for example, the legislature is working on a package of four bills, Senate Bills 238, 253, 319, and 484. On February 24, a joint session of two state senate committees heard from more than a dozen advocates of reform—with the reforms specifically including the pending legislation.

Senate Bill 253 mandates the application of health care standards by the judiciary in authorizing psychotropic drugs for children in foster care. No psychotropic drugs should be authorized without prior medical exams of the children as well as on-going medical monitoring. It also adds an important safeguard – the requirement for a second opinion from a psychiatrist when authorizing the riskiest treatments.

Senate Bill 319 would place local public health nurses at the center of the complex process that is supposed to protect foster children from inappropriate medication. If this bill becomes law, it will introduce not just expertise, but disinterested expertise, into the medication authorization process. Unlike almost everyone else involved in medication decisions, public health nurses do not themselves benefit from prescribing behavior control drugs.

Senate Bill 238 would improve reporting of the medication of foster children; it would direct state agencies to notify physicians when they are prescribing dangerous quantities or combinations of medications; and it would provide training for those who are involved in medication decisions: physicians, nurses, caseworkers, caregivers, children’s attorneys, CASAs, and foster children.

These legislative proposals did not just happen. In California, as elsewhere, legislative proposals almost always originate with interest groups and are preceded by extensive efforts to organize like-minded people. Those efforts in California have been greatly aided by a recent series of articles and a video documentary by Karen de Sa in the San Jose Mercury-News and affiliated Bay Area News Group publications. See Drugging Our Kids Documentary. Readers who haven’t already read and watched this series should set aside some time for it.

What is happening on the legislative front in your state? Let us know. If the answer is “not much,” contact us anyway. When the time is ripe, a small but dedicated group of people can get the ball rolling. That time may be now.


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