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California Foster Children Overprescribed Psychotropic Drugs

Flickr/ Gianfranco Puccio

Flickr/ Gianfranco Puccio

A state audit is highly critical of the way state and county departments monitor the prescribing of psychotropic medications to children in foster care.

The California State Auditor reviewed statewide data and case files from Los Angeles, Madera, Riverside and Sonoma, and found some foster children were prescribed psychotropic medications in amounts and dosages that exceeded state guidelines.

The report says 12 percent of California's foster children received 96,000 Medi-Cal-paid prescriptions for psychotropic drugs between 2014 and 2015, which would amount to 10 prescriptions per child per year.

The audit also found the California Department of Social Services and the Department of Health Care Services were unable to completely identify which foster children were prescribed the medications.

"The oversight structure specifically for the psychotropic medications and foster youth is fragmented and there needs to be better collaboration in order to ensure the health and safety of these kids," says Margartia Fernandez, chief of public affairs for the California State Auditor.

The Department of Social Services is responsible for monitoring counties' compliance with prescribing guidelines, says Fernandez.

The report also shows that counties didn't always obtain required court or parental approval to prescribe the medications.

The state auditor recommends requiring the California Department of Social Services to collaborate with counties to ensure that foster children only receive psychotropic medications that are appropriate and medically necessary.

"Ensuring that counties understand them, that they know how to use them and that they're using the guidelines for the health and safety of these children."

Sen. Mike McGuire, who requested the audit, says "the findings show that the health and safety of thousands of foster youth have been put at risk for years."

Currently, there is no comprehensive state oversight plan for monitoring these prescriptions.

 foster care

Ja'Nel Johnson

Former Health Care Reporter

Ja'Nel Johnson developed a love for journalism and health and science in high school, and decided the combination would make for an interesting and fun career.  Read Full Bio 

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