California Senate Passes Bills To Help End Overprescribing of Psychotropic Drugs In Foster Care

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Santa Monica, CA – Consumer Watchdog applauded passage by the California Senate today of four bills that will help curtail overprescribing of psychotropic medication to foster youth, but said additional steps are needed to ensure these most vulnerable patients are protected from harm.

The four bills will provide better monitoring, treatment and training to address excessive use of mind-altering medication on foster youth by physicians and homes in the foster care system. However, the bills fail to address potential financial conflicts of interest exposed in a Bay Area News Group investigation, said Consumer Watchdog.

That report revealed that drug manufacturers paid or spent more than $14 million on doctors who prescribe drugs in the foster care system. Prescribers in the foster care system received more than twice as much as the typical California doctor in payments from big drug companies for meals, gifts, travel, speaking and industry-sponsored research. Frequent prescribers of foster youth were generally rewarded the most, according to the report; in 2013, the higher prescribers, on average, collected almost four times more than the lower prescribers.

“Today’s action by the Senate move us one step closer to reining in the rampant overprescribing that is placing foster youth at risk,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog. “Yet more must be done, including a ban on pharmaceutical drug-maker payments to physicians that create troubling conflicts of interest between a foster care physician’s financial interests and the health needs of their patients.”

State agencies collect data that would reveal inappropriate prescribing patterns by physicians. The Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Social Services should publicly disclose which doctors are prescribing to foster youth, how many prescriptions they wrote, the type, quantity and dosage of those prescriptions and year-to-year prescribing trends, Consumer Watchdog said.

In a bipartisan vote, the bills passed unanimously. The bills now go to the state Assembly.

SB 238 (Sens. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Jim Beall, D-San Jose) would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions.

SB 253 (Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel) would change the juvenile courts' process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child.

SB 319 (Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose) would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications.

SB 484 (Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose) would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings.

Of those foster children administered psychotropic drugs in California, 52 percent are given one or more anti-psychotics – a drug class with few FDA-approved indications for children and adolescents. According to the Quality Improvement Project, during fiscal year 2012-13, there were 104,688 pharmacy claim records for 12,025 children who received a paid claim for psychotropic medication. That’s nearly nine prescriptions per foster child in a single year.

Click here to read our letter of support for SB 238:

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Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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