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Former foster youth shares what it's like being over-prescribed antipsychotic drugs




After being heavily medicated during his time in foster care, D’Anthony now takes no psychotropic drugs. He says the medications he was given in foster care didn’t improve his behavior.
After being heavily medicated during his time in foster care, D’Anthony now takes no psychotropic drugs. He says the medications he was given in foster care didn’t improve his behavior.
Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group

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D'Anthony Dandy has been on a battery of psychotropic drugs throughout his life — lithium, Depakote, an adult dose of Risperdal.

Even though many of these drugs are not regulated for use by children, Dandy was 10 or 11 years old when he got his first prescription.

In her continuing series, "Drugging our Kids," San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá writes about anti-psychotic medication given to children in California's foster care system.

The kids in foster care are prescribed these drugs at 3.5 times the rate of teens nationwide.

"They have maybe emotional problems; they're traumatized; they're in pain," says de Sá, "and they're treated with medications that are really only approved by the FDA for very severe psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia."

Dandy entered the foster care system when he was 2 years old. He's 19 now, and has lived in 29 different homes.

"I felt like no one wanted me," says Dandy. "I felt lonely in the world."

In some cases he did lash out and have violent episodes.

Within the foster care system, however, at least 14 psychiatrists diagnosed him with various illnesses: post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder and reactive attachment.

He was prescribed a cocktail of drugs that would often change, none directly addressing the emotional stress of being a foster child.

"I just felt like the medication was taking over me," he says, explaining that while on Risperdal he'd fall asleep from 3 p.m. to 4 a.m. "It mainly helped me calm down to sleep, but that's it. It should be a sleeping pill."

At 15, Dandy began to resist taking the drugs — sometimes hiding them under his tongue. However as a minor in the foster care system, he had little choice or face punishment in his group home.

It wasn't until court-appointed advocate Tara Beckman took over the case that Dandy was able to challenge the prescriptions.

"The acting out was all about his trauma," Beckman told the Mercury News, "but all these people were treating it with meds."

With her support, Dandy was able to be legally taken off the drugs.

However, de Sá says dozens of other foster children she's interviewed share similar stories. Dandy was the rare person among them who said he'd had enough.

"A lot of times, foster youth don't know they have the right to refuse medications," she says.

Today, Dandy is a high school graduate — just 45 percent of California's foster children earn their diploma. He lives in his own apartment and hopes to attend Merritt College next year.