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Investigation on drugged foster kids leads to swift action by the state

Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group

For Joymara Coleman, a 24-year-old student from Hayward, Calif., the medications she was prescribed in foster care "took away the essence" of who she was. Coleman was photographed at her Hayward apartment on Aug. 11, 2014, with two of the psychotropic medications she was prescribed while in foster care. She no longer takes Abilify or trazodone, but keeps them in her apartment as a reminder of what she has overcome.

In a shocking new investigative report, San Jose Mercury News' Karen de Sá discovered foster kids and teenagers in California are being prescribed powerful psychotropic medication at an alarmingly high rate.

De Sá spent nine months negotiating with state officials to get access to information regarding what types of drugs were prescribed to children and at what age. She writes the children were given drugs as a way to keep them under control. Shortly after de Sá's first piece came out, state officials moved swiftly to investigate the practice.

"State Sen. Ted Lieu sent a letter to the state medical board calling for an investigation into doctors who may be overprescribing," she says.

De Sá says she has repeatedly been denied information about the doctors who are doing much of the prescribing, adding that she believes the state acted more to protect doctors' interests than children's.

Pressure by Sen Lieu may reveal more about the practice. 

"Ted Lieu is urging the medical board to go further and look at broader patterns among doctors that may have been prescribing inappropriately," she says.

That may be determined by a number of factors. For example if the doctor had access to a child's medical records or family history before issuing a prescription. De Sá says in some cases they did not.

The first part of Karen de Sá's multi-part series can be found online. In the coming weeks, she'll also report on the cost of these medications and the state's slow movement on this issue.


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