The Drugging Of Juveniles in the Justice System in Florida Investigated

The Palm Beach Post has conducted an investigation on the drugging of juveniles in the juvenile justice system. It seems that Medicaid fraud, or so called “off label” prescribing practices (i.e. prescribing drugs for purposes other than those approved by the FDA), is rampant in the state of Florida. As explained in the first of a two part series for that newspaper, Huge doses of potent antipsychotics flow into state jails for troubled kids.

Reacting to the newspaper’s findings, the head of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice ordered a sweeping review of the department’s use of antipsychotic medications. As it stands now, DJJ doesn’t track prescriptions and has no way of telling whether doctors are putting kids on pills simply to make them easier to control.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice seems to be overdoing the chemical control bit. The idea that there is more serious mental illness in our juvenile justice facilities than fever is absolutely ludicrous.

In 2007, for example, DJJ bought more than twice as much Seroquel as ibuprofen. Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children.

That’s enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day.

The second article in this two part series deals with conflict of interest, and the kickbacks doctors who prescribe to juveniles in criminal detention often receive from drug companies.

In all, 52 psychiatrists who have worked for DJJ combined to bill Medicaid for at least 175,247 prescriptions for psychiatric medications in 21 months, a span that ended in March 2009. The doctors who took payments, a group that numbered 17, accounted for more than half of all those prescriptions, records show.

Florida is not one of those states requiring drug companies to disclose the amount of money they give to doctors. Enacting such legislation could help safeguard the health of kids in the juvenile justice system. The reach of such legislation, in fact, would extend well beyond the juvenile justice system alone. It would also help protect children in foster care, people in the mental health system, and seniors in nursing homes.