Responding to reports of drugged foster youth, California lawmakers propose greater oversight

At a hearing Tuesday, California lawmakers will examine why the state's foster children are being prescribed psychiatric drugs at three times the rate of other youth.

Democratic lawmakers are proposing several pieces of legislation to improve oversight after an investigation by the Bay Area News Group found that thousands of vulnerable teens in foster care are being prescribed antipsychotics that could trigger diabetes, tics, weight gain and drowsiness.

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Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said in a news release that the hearing at the Capitol is only a step in determining whether the drugs are being administered as part of a therapeutic regimen or "being used as a chemical straitjacket solely to control their behavior."

Beall and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, have proposed SB238, which would alert caretakers when drugs are overprescribed and warn of dangerous drug interactions.

Beall also plans to introduce two other bills — one calling for public health nurses to oversee the medical monitoring of children's medication, and the other to establish treatment protocols and oversight in group homes.

Lawmakers on Tuesday will hear from medical professionals, child welfare directors, family service advocates, foster youth and officials from California's health and social services agencies.

Lawmakers say nearly a quarter of adolescents in California's foster care youth system are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs. According to the National Center for Youth Law with data provided by the state, 36 percent of them are taking multiple medications that carry harmful side effects.

Antipsychotics, antidepressants, ADHD drugs, anti-anxiety medications and mood stabilizers are some of the psychotropic drugs.

California's foster care system has shrunk in the past decade after reforms emphasized keeping children with their families whenever possible. As a result, the number of children in foster care has dropped from 103,000 in 2000 to about 55,000 in 2013.