In what has been called a landmark case, advocacy groups Children’s Rights, National Center for Youth Law, and St. Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics sued Missouri on behalf of three foster children in June 2017, alleging the state was unlawfully prescribing drugs without regard to the harms they can cause, in violation of the children’s civil rights.
Administrators failed to properly maintain and review medical records and prescription data and gave the drugs to foster children to sedate them rather than for a valid medical purpose, the groups say.
In January, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey refused to throw out the plaintiffs’ substantive due process claims under the 14th Amendment while dismissing other allegations.
On Thursday, the judge gave the foster children another boost by granting their motion for class certification.
In a mostly procedural ruling, Laughrey noted that as of December last year the Missouri Department of Social Services has more than 13,500 children under its care, and that about 3,100 foster children are being medicated with psychotropic drugs.
The judge ruled that the class shall consist of all minors in the department’s Children’s Division who are prescribed psychotropic drugs while in foster care.
The child advocacy groups behind the lawsuit said that drugs have been used as a “chemical restraint” on children. Medications that the Food and Drug Administration has approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are frequently prescribed to foster kids without those mental illnesses, and multiple drugs were combined and overprescribed in ways that are harmful to children, they claim.
A 12-year-old girl identified as a “K.C.” in the lawsuit was prescribed as many as five psychotropic medications without informed consent, according to court records. The girl suffered from shakes after allegedly being given a combination of medications that included the antipsychotic Abilify, the ADHD drug Strattera and the powerful psychotropic drug Seroquel.
She frequently got into fights at her residential facility but became less aggressive after she stopped taking Seroquel, the complaint states. She is still angry and sad, according to court records, and has gained more than 15 pounds over three months of being on cocktail of drugs.
Jennifer Tidball, interim director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, and Tim Decker, director of the department’s Children’s Division, are parties to the lawsuit.
Mary Compton, a spokeswoman with Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, did not comment specifically on the court’s ruling, referring instead to an April filing that asked the court to deny certification.
Missouri acknowledged problems with medical recordkeeping and prescription drug data in a 2016 report to the federal government.
“Many foster care children are prescribed multiple psychotropic medications without clear evidence of benefit and with inadequate safety data. The use of multiple medications (psychotropic or otherwise) creates the potential for serious drug interactions,” the report states.
The case is scheduled for a bench trial on June 17, 2019.