UPDATES ON BILLS TO PROTECT VULNERABLE FOSTER CHILDREN FROM DOCTORS WHO OVER-PRESCRIBE PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS
On Wednesday, SB 1174, a bill to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids, unanimously passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee with 19 yes votes. (For the backstory and context, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)
The bill, introduced by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), would trigger regular reports on physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children.
Sen McGuire pointed out that if passed, SB 1174 would be the strongest legislation of its kind in the nation, and would go a long way toward protecting California’s foster kids, who, McGuire says, have experienced a 1,400% surge in psychotropic and antipsychotic medication prescriptions in the last 15 years.
“It is unconscionable that the state is not acting in the best interest of these foster kids,” Sen. McGuire says. “This legislation stems from a culture that has developed in our State’s foster care system where excessive prescription of psychotropic medication has taken hold and it has lifelong negative impacts on young lives.”
SB 1174 is part of a larger legislative package that includes SB 253, a bill scheduled for an Assembly vote today (Thursday), that would require second medical opinions for prescriptions to kids under five.
Another bill in the package is SB 1291, which would improve monitoring of mental health services provided to Medi-Cal eligible students, including foster youth. The bill has stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The San Jose Mercury News’ has more on the legislative push for reform. Here’s a clip:
McGuire told the committee there are almost 70,000 foster youth in California and that over the past 15 years, the rate of foster youth prescribed psychotropic medications has increased 1,400 percent — with “no way to measure the efficacy of these practices.”
After similar bills were passed in Illinois, Washington and Ohio, he said, those states have witnessed a 25 percent decrease in psychotropic prescriptions to foster youth.
But this bill, said McGuire, would be the strongest in the nation because it provides a state medical board with “the data they need to do their job” to scrutinize the prescribing rates and enforce the legislation.
Iris Hoffman, 20, who spent time in foster care, echoed his comments, telling the committee that the foster care system is “filled with stories of overmedication.”
She said she was prescribed more than one antipsychotic and “countless different medications” for a diagnosis that, she noted, later proved to be incorrect.
“My story is not unique,” Hoffman said. “There are so many people in the system who have had these experiences. There is absolutely no reason not to take a closer look at this” and put in place “some kind of protocol” that will prevent such abuse from happening again.
“Maybe we can focus some of our energy on stopping the overmedication of foster youth that is damaging lives to this moment,” Hoffman implored. “We cannot wait one more day.”
McGuire’s office agreed to amend the bill so doctors would only be triggered for scrutiny once a year, instead of quarterly, and only if they prescribed three or more psychiatric drugs to a child for 90 days or more.”
DOJ TO REQUIRE FULL REPORTING FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES ON “ARREST-RELATED DEATHS”
US Department of Justice officials have announced that the nation’s 19,450 law enforcement agencies will be required to report information on officer-involved deaths to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Currently, the FBI only collects voluntary data from local and state agencies on fatal uses of force by officers.
The system the BJS will use is inspired by The Counted, an ongoing project from the Guardian, which revealed that the FBI numbers only accounted for about half of officer-involved killings.
Rather than relying solely on self-reporting from law enforcement agencies, the BJS will collect data from media sources and have law enforcement and local medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices confirm information gathered about arrest-related deaths.
Besides reporting the numbers, departments will also be required to include specifics, like whether an individual was armed or unarmed, the events leading up to a fatal encounter, and the demographics of those killed by law enforcement.
This year, agencies will report once, at the end of the year, after which, they will be required to turn in their data once every quarter.
The Guardian’s Jon Swaine has more on the changes. Here’s a clip:
The new system is being overseen by the department’s bureau of justice statistics (BJS). It would, like the Guardian’s, document deaths caused by physical force, Taser shocks and some vehicle crashes caused by law enforcement in addition to fatal shootings by officers. A Washington Post tally counts fatal shootings by police.
In their Federal Register article, officials cited their authority under the death in custody reporting act – a law that states local departments must report all deaths in custody to the justice department or lose 10% of their federal funding. The law has been largely ignored since being reauthorized in December 2014.
The BJS carried out a trial of its new system that monitored deaths between 1 June and 31 August last year. Officials working on the pilot program cited The Counted as an influence on the initiative and a source for its information…
According to the announcement, police departments will be asked later this year to report once for all arrest-related deaths during 2016, before moving to the quarterly reporting process next year.
Under the new government program, all 19,450 American law enforcement agencies will be sent a form by the BJS that requires information on all the department’s arrest-related deaths in the past quarter of the year.
Deaths that were already noticed in media reports will be listed by the BJS for confirmation or correction by the local departments. Space will be included for the local department to list additional deaths that were not previously noticed. Departments that have seen no arrest-related deaths that quarter will be asked to return “an affirmative zero” saying so.
A second form seeking extensive information about the circumstances of each death will be sent to the local department responsible. It will require local officials to detail similar data to that logged by The Counted, such as demographic information on every person killed, how the deadly encounter began and whether the person was armed.
Other forms will be sent to the 685 medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices asking them to also confirm details of deaths that have been noticed in public sources. They, too, will be asked to return forms with details of any other deaths that went unnoticed.
SOLANO PRISONERS DECORATE THOUSANDS OF BAGS TO BENEFIT FIGHT AGAINST CANCER
Inmate artists at Vacaville State Prison, Solano—some of whom are battling cancer themselves—decorated around 2,500 white paper lunch bags with nature scenes, angels, flowers, hearts, tattoo-style art, and more, as part of an art show to benefit the American Cancer Society.
The bags—each dedicated to a person fighting cancer or lost to cancer—will be lit with candlelight and used to illuminate a school track during a nighttime Relay for Life.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Dianne Reber Hart has the story. Here’s a clip:
Their original artwork, done in everything from crayons to acrylics, is part of an American Cancer Society fundraiser. The bags will circle a school track during an overnight Relay for Life event, each glowing by candlelight as a luminaria dedicated to someone battling or lost to cancer.
Collectively, the bags are both a tribute and an art show, an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer.
A newly formed group within Vacaville’s California State Prison, Solano called Artists Serving Humanity decorated some 2,500 bags, each one checked by prison staff for inappropriate language, graphics or gang insignia.
The majority of bags passed clearance, many with tender images of angels, hearts, flowers, stars, clouds, crosses and hands clasped in prayer. Others show detailed landscapes of mountains, streams, sunsets, sandy beaches and palm trees — scenery far removed from inmates locked within the medium-security prison.
There also are abstracts, Teddy bears, words of hope and encouragement, and designs more typical of graffiti or tattoo art, each a one-of-a-kind tribute. Several were completed by inmates battling cancer.
“There are a lot of artists incarcerated and we want to give them a creative outlet that has positive implications for the community,” said Eric Lahti, the GED teacher at the prison who oversees Artists Serving Humanity. “It’s to help make up for all the harm they’ve done.”
This is an initial public effort for the new group of 100 inmate artists. Previously, artwork has been completed to brighten the waiting area for visitors.