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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Gabriel Myers Tragedy

It’s difficult to decide which is the greater tragedy here in the life and death of Gabriel Myers. Was is it his environment or the drugs given to him to help him cope with his environment? Gabriel was an adorable little 7-year old boy with an engaging smile whose life ended abruptly this year when he hung himself with an extendable shower cord in the bathroom of his South Florida foster home.

Gabriel had previously suffered from a neglectful mother addicted to cocaine, but his problems worsened when he began suffering from a suicidal mental state caused by the prescriptions he was put on.

Gabriel had not been given an easy life. He had seen his mother arrested twice for drug possession and DUI, ultimately leading to his placement in foster care in June of 2008. The judge ordered this placement into foster care after he was found in his mother’s car surrounded by cocaine dust while she lay beside him passed out on drugs. Since that order, he had been moved three times from one foster home to another. His file contains reports of sexual and physical abuse and a diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety and depression.

But when he was supposedly rescued from his negligent environment, the adults responsible for his care continued to make him suffer. Not only his aunt and uncle who admitted to using a belt to punish him, but his psychiatrist prescribed him medications that were not approved by the FDA for use in children. Medications like Lexapro, Vyvanse, Adderall XR, Zyprexa and Symbyax that all contain FDA black box warnings for side effects that include a high risk of suicidal thoughts, especially in children. The Florida state program that oversees Medicaid had red-flagged this particular psychiatrist that wrote Gabriel’s prescriptions as a doctor whose practice sometimes veers outside of the generally accepted protocols for prescribing medications.

His mental state only continued to deteriorate the few weeks before his death when he talked about killing himself, claimed he had no friends and threw temper tantrums like the one that led to his suicide. Gabriel talked of imaginary friends that he used to have contact with but hadn’t seen lately. He got into trouble at school for throwing scissors and sexual misconduct towards some of the other children. Clearly, Gabriel was a ticking time bomb just waiting to happen and an obvious danger to himself, but his therapists and psychiatrists just kept handing out the prescriptions.

Gabriel’s tragic death caused quite a shake up in the Florida’s Department of Child and Families services when it was discovered that he had been prescribed these medications without consent from his parents or a judge. The DCF opened an investigation into the medications that children in foster and state care are being prescribed. Results of the audit concluded that over 20,000 children in foster care and even more in state care are being prescribed mind-altering drugs. This number represents three times the amount of children in the general population that receive these drugs.

It appears that children in foster care who are sad and anxious for obvious reasons are making it difficult for those who are assigned to care for them. To make life easier for these care givers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic pills are being prescribed and handed out like afternoon snacks. Since 2004, Florida state law requires consent from a parent or judge before these medications can be prescribed, but when DCF conducted their audit, they found incomplete and inaccurate data concerning these required consent forms.

Andrea Moore, a child advocate attorney has been questioning the state’s use of psychotropic drugs on children for almost ten years. “The shift-care workers at group homes are much more likely to report sadness and crying as depression, or anxiousness as some sort of mental-health problem.” Then she adds, “You’d be sad and anxious, too, if you didn’t know where you were going to live from day to day.” She fears that these drugs are being used as chemical restraints to keep the children in line. Group homes have a rate of 33 percent of their children ages 13-17 that are on mood-altering medications.

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