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Senator Wants Answers From Department of Juvenile Justice’s Use of Drugs

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Ronda Storms cries foul on use of psychotropic drugs in youth facilities.

Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE | The Department of Juvenile Justice has run afoul of a key senator over the use of psychotropic drugs on youth in its lockup facilities, and the question of whether the agency takes concerns about the issue seriously enough.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, scolded agency officials earlier this week after they responded to questions about DJJ’s policies on medicating children without mentioning the agency’s internal investigation into the practice.

She also ordered agency officials to fill her in on details of their prescribing practices and update her on the investigation, which representatives of the department were unable to do during a committee meeting on Tuesday.

While DJJ acknowledges that 34 percent of minors in its system are on psychotropic medication, the agency’s secretary, Wansley Walters, didn’t appear before Storms’ committee, and another DJJ official made no mention in testimony to the panel that Walters had thought the problem serious enough that in May she ordered the investigation.

That investigation is still under way, but agency officials’ failure to acknowledge it drew a rebuke from Storms at a committee meeting Tuesday.

“I’m asking you questions about your prescribing practices,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you say, ‘Senator, we know there’s an ongoing investigation into our use of psychotropic drugs for disciplinary purposes?’?”

DJJ’s Gayla Sumner replied that it is against agency policy to use mind-altering drugs for discipline or punishment, which opponents of the practice describe as “chemical restraint.”

“We have that written multiple times in our policies,” Sumner said, “and we agree with you that it should not happen.”

Meanwhile, a family practice physician who works with three DJJ facilities in the Tampa Bay area, told the same committee that the use of psychotropics, in general, has become both safer and more effective.

“We know a lot more about brain functioning in children,” said Dr. Phyllis Anderson.

“We have better medication, with less side effects, that are able to locate the specific area of the brain that is malfunctioning.”

Anderson said the drugs help children succeed in school and prevent them from hurting themselves.

But Storms said the drugs have lasting consequences. “Aside from the effects on the human body, any child who’s ever been on any psychotropic drug is not eligible for the military,” Storms said.

She also noted that DJJ’s 34 percent medication rate was much higher than the 14.8 percent rate of use of medication reported by another agency, the Department of Children and Families.

“Our children in [DCF] care have been badly burned, some of them have been starved, some of them have been sexually molested, some of them have been abandoned,” she told Anderson. “Your [DJJ] population cannot be more needy. Everyone in our population has had some form of maltreatment.”

Storms instructed DJJ to schedule a meeting with her, update her on its prescribing practices and internal investigation and then come back to the committee.

Written by dawneworswick

October 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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