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New CA Law to Combat Overmedication of Foster Children

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation aimed to deter doctors from overprescribing drugs to children in the state’s foster system. The new laws were proposed in response to reports that foster children were being overmedicated with psychotropic drugs.

As previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, a Mercury News investigative report revealed that nearly one quarter of children in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychiatric drugs. Equally concerning, many of the physicians who treat California’s foster children have deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Doctors who prescribe medications to these vulnerable children are frequent recipients of payments from drug companies, often in the form of gifts and remuneration for meals, travel, speaking engagements and medical research. The investigation suggested that doctors are not looking out primarily for the children’s best interests, prompting an investigation into the misuse of psychotropic medication in the foster care system.

In response, Senate Bill 1174 will require the California Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Social Services to provide the Medical Board of California (Board) with information regarding Medi-Cal physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications and related services for children and minors placed in foster care. The Board must then review the data in order to determine if any potential violations of law or excessive prescribing of psychotropic medications inconsistent with the standard of care exist. If warranted, the law requires the Board to conduct an investigation and take disciplinary action.

“This bill ensures the state takes a no-tolerance approach to over-prescribing and that the Medical Board and attorney general get the data they need to protect California’s 66,000 foster youth,” said Sen. Mike McGuire.

A second law, Senate Bill 1291, will gather new data regarding the mental health services provided to children in the California foster care system. It specifically requires annual mental health plan reviews to be conducted by an external quality review organization (EQRO) for Medi-Cal eligible minor and non-minor dependents in foster care. The State Department of Health Care Services will then be required to post any corrective action plan prepared by the mental health plan to address deficiencies identified by the EQRO review and the EQRO data on its Internet Web site. The law also mandates that the Department notify the mental health plan of any deficiencies and would require the mental health plan to provide a written corrective action plan to the department.

“We cannot allow our foster care system to strictly rely on dosing foster children with mind-altering medications to manage their behavior,’’ Sen. Jim Beall said. “We must ensure that less invasive and safer available treatments are the first options for our children rather than a pill. The system must provide foster youth with the services that address their trauma instead of depending on drugs to mask their trauma.’’

If your child or someone you love has been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.