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Report Finds High Rate of Psych Meds Use for PA Juvenile Offenders

Anti-psychotic medications can have very serious side effects. Credit: Fuse809/Wikimedia Commons
Anti-psychotic medications can have very serious side effects. Credit: Fuse809/Wikimedia Commons
November 12, 2015

PITTSBURGH – A report by the investigative news organization PublicSource found that young people held in Pennsylvania’s juvenile correctional system may be given powerful psychiatric drugs at rates far higher than other youth.

On average only 1 or 2 percent of young people are prescribed anti-psychotics. But according to Halle Stockton, managing editor at PublicSource, the quantity flowing into the state’s juvenile detention facilities could treat a third of the youth held there.

"And they carry significant health risks such as rapid weight gain, suicidal behaviors,” she states. “It can even lead to diabetes and other conditions that can haunt a young person for the rest of his or her life."

The Department of Human Services says many of the juveniles arrive with prescriptions for psychotropic medications, and protocols in place actually lead to a reduction or termination of medications when possible.

But Stockton says medical experts familiar with the use of anti-psychotic medications believe young people who suffer from conditions that warrant their use should be in psychiatric hospitals.

"There's no way that they should be in juvenile correctional facilities where their behavior is medicated as opposed to trying to find out the root of the problem and what can be done to make a long-term effect," she stresses.

Twenty percent of children in foster care in the state are also on anti-psychotics.

The Department of Human Services is taking steps to institute more monitoring and training in the use of psychotropic drugs for children in foster care. But when Stockton inquired if that would apply to juvenile correctional facilities as well, the answer was no.

"And actually said that they don't believe they're encountering the same issue because they expect a higher level of mental disorder with youth offenders," she adds.

Pennsylvania has been reducing the size of its juvenile detention system in favor of a community-oriented model.

Since 2008 the number of beds available has been reduced from 600 to 370.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA