The National Center for Youth Law, Children’s Rights, and the St. Louis University Legal Clinic sued the state of Missouri this June on behalf of 13,000 foster children, arguing that poor oversight caused many to be over-exposed to psychotropic drugs, according to Reuters.

These drugs, like Abilify and Risperdal, carry risk for serious side effects, including development of diabetes, seizures, and suicidal thoughts. Other side effects of psychotropic medications include sleepiness and nervous tics.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, seeks class-action status. The Missouri Department of Social Services and the department’s Children’s Division are the two agencies named in the suit.

The lawsuit claims that the children’s constitutional right to be free from harm while in state custody was violated.

Its goal is to force Missouri to enact stricter measures to prevent the over-medication of children in state custody, and the hope is that other states will feel pressured to follow.

The lawsuit argues that children in foster care are over-medicated because “giving a pill to sedate the child or older person is a quicker and easier response than training caregivers and staff (to provide) non-pharmacological, safer and, in many instances, more effective treatment,” Bill Grimm, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, told Reuters.

The lawsuit notes that drugs can be a helpful part of therapy in some cases, but for many of the foster children, the drugs are administered simply to control behavior, not provide therapy.

Many foster children’s behavioral issues are the result of abuse or neglect, and the drugs only serve as “chemical straight-jackets,” according to the lawsuit.

About 30 percent of children in state care in Missouri are prescribed psychotropic medications, including anti-psychotics like Abilify and Risperdal, as well as anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

That is almost twice the national rate, the lawsuit states.

Over-medication also occurs because the transfer of medical records is often poorly coordinated. The nature of foster care can cause children to move from one placement to another frequently, and, in some cases, their medical history does not move with them as quickly.

“These children are being prescribed too many powerful and potentially dangerous drugs, at unacceptable dosages and at too young an age,” Sara Bartosz, a Children’s Rights attorney, said to Reuters.

The lawsuit aims to establish authorities to ensure drugs are safely administered, proper maintenance of medical records, review of prescriptions, and documentation of the children’s informed consent.

This lawsuit is the first statewide federal suit to take sole aim at the issue of over-exposure of foster children to psychotropic drugs.

Some states, such as Florida, Texas, California, New York, and Illinois, already require court authorization for psychotropic prescriptions.

Jennifer Tidball, acting director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, and Tim Decker, director of the Children’s Division, declined to comment on the lawsuit through a spokeswoman.

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