Migrant children, separated at the U.S. border from their parents, are reportedly being administered psychotropic drugs.
This involuntary practice at shelters should be of concern to everyone–in and out of the mental and physical health fields.
Lawsuit Against Forced Treatment in Children
There is an on-going lawsuit filed by the Center of Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which details serious allegations of migrant children being forcibly given a wide range of psychotropic drugs at the Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas. The objective of doing so was to conceal any physical or emotional presentation of trauma from these children as a result of being detained and separated from their parents.
As filed in the lawsuit, there are reported instances of children being prescribed up to 10 different intravenous and oral medications at a time, ranging from antipsychotics such as Latuda, to antidepressants such as Xoloft and Duloxetrine, to seizure medications such as Divalproex.
Some children cite receiving up to 18 pills per day, taking some pills that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Flores vs. Sessions, 2018).
This practice has been taking place without parental consent, and through either misleading or coercing the children into taking the pills.
There are allegations of children being forcibly held down to receive injections, of others being threatened with further detention if they refused the drugs, and of staff members telling children that the medications were vitamins.
The issue is that administering psychotropic drugs to minors (under the age of 16) requires a medical consenter, which must be selected by a court. This would be either a parent/relative or, when relatives are not accessible, a member of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) at a particular shelter, as is the case for displaced foster children.
Therefore, whoever oversees these shelters has the authority to give consent for these drugs, a power which they have been duly abusing.
The document also cites the name of a practicing psychiatrist prescribing several drugs at once to individual children. The prescription of a cocktail of potent psychotropics to a child is an act of serious medical malpractice, not to mention the fact that they are condoning the heinous actions of this shelter.
It is already distressing enough that these children are subject to the psychological trauma of separation from their parents, as well as the ever-present risk of maltreatment in these shelters. However, forcibly administering what are essentially ‘chemical strait-jackets is a reckless, reprehensible action which could place these children’s already traumatized lives in further jeopardy.
Side Effects of Psychotropic Drugs in Children
As many mental health professionals know, administering combinations of psychotropic drugs has many potentially detrimental side effects, even more so in young children, whose bodies are still developing.
When taking a combination of antipsychotics and antidepressants, children are especially vulnerable to rapid weight gain, metabolic abnormalities, suicidal thoughts, and compromised organ function (Cornell & Carlson, 2006).
These drug combinations also pose an elevated risk of cardiovascular complications, Type II Diabetes, and extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) of movement such as akathisia (Wang & Si, 2013).
As it turns out, the lawsuit highlighted cases of children exhibiting “weight gain of almost 100 pounds” and of others displaying “dizziness”, “somnolence” “appearing lethargic” and “collapsing several times” because of EPS disorders after taking potent anti-anxiety medications.
Such occurrences are not new in the United States. In 2014, a California investigation cites how 79,000 foster children were being prescribed psychotropic drugs “in dosages that exceeded state guidelines.”
As far back as 1998, up to 13 perent of foster children were receiving psychotropic medications (California State Auditor, 2015). In a 2008 investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, Oregon, and Michigan, many foster children in these states were prescribed psychotropic drugs up to 4.5 times higher than other children in Medicaid (GAO, 2011).
It must be pointed out that there was an effort to try to curb the excess issuing of psychotropic drugs to children in foster care by the Obama administration in the final year of its tenure.
It proposed funding for a five-year initiative to better facilitate evidence-based screening and psychotherapeutic intervention for trauma (CWLA, 2015). However, as demonstrated at Shiloh, this initiative has failed to fulfil its objective, as this shelter continued the trend of over-administering drugs to its occupants.
What makes this instance at Shiloh particularly indefensible is not just the fact that caretakers are dispensing potent drugs into the bodies of innocent children against their will, but also that they are doing so with the primary intention of masking the trauma these children are experiencing from the public eye.
As media outlets, human rights organizations, and health care professionals try to gain access to these facilities, these shelters have the added impetus to create the façade that they are looking after the children well, and that the children are healthy and in good spirits.
There is a blatant disregard for fundamental human rights on show here by those working at and operating the Shiloh Treatment Center, an offense made even worse by the fact that these patients were helpless children. Akin to sedating animals forcibly held in captivity, this dehumanizing practice shows a lack of empathy for these children and the overwhelming tribulations they are facing.
The current administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy has already created a Pandora’s box with regards to processing immigrants and addressing family separations.
The psychological ramifications thrust upon these innocent children will be long-lasting, and possibly permanent. Parental attachment is an essential part of a child’s psychological and biological development. The neurobiological deficiencies exhibited by abandoned Romanian children in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project certainly attests to this finding (Sheridan et al., 2012). However, adding an involuntary chemical strait-jacket to the mix, and you make the already compromised psychological and physiological well-being of these children that much worse, if not irreversible.
While the health care professionals at this shelter need to be condemned for such actions, the U.S. government, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) all need to bear responsibility as well.
It comes down to an unacceptable lack of oversight, tacit complicity, and/or sheer cruelty from all of the parties involved. Any grim life prospects, or worse, casualties that transpire in these children’s lives, manifested under the watch of these same officials and professionals, and they all need to be held accountable for what is happening to these children.
California State Auditor. (2015). California’s Foster Care System The State and Counties Have Failed to Adequately Oversee the Prescription of Psychotropic Medications to Children in Foster Care (Vol. 131, pp. 1-137, Rep. No. 131). Sacramento, CA: California State Auditor.
Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). (2015). CWLA Summary of President’s FY-2016 Children’s Child Welfare Budget (pp. 1-15, Publication). Washington DC: CWLA.
Cornell, C. U., & Carlson, H. (2006). Endocrine and Metabolic Adverse Effects of Psychotropic Medications in Children and Adolescents. Endocrine and Metabolic Adverse Effects of Psychotropic Medications in Children and Adolescents, 45(7), 771-791. doi:10.3410/f.30558.487052
Flores vs. Sessions- Case No. CV 85-4544-DMG (AGRx), 2, Center of Human Rights and Constitutional Law, 109-173 (United States District Court Central District of California – Western Division, June 29, 2018).
Sheridan, M. A., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., Mclaughlin, K. A., & Nelson, C. A. (2012). Variation in neural development as a result of exposure to institutionalization early in childhood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(32), 12927-12932. doi:10.1073/pnas.1200041109
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). (2011). HHS Guidance Could Help States Improve Oversight of Psychotropic Prescriptions (270T ed., Vol. 12, pp. 1-119, Rep.). Washington DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Wang, P., & Si, T. (2013). Use of antipsychotics in the treatment of depressive disorders. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 25(3), 134–140. http://doi.org/10.3969/j.issn.1002-0829.2013.03.002