by Rhonda McBride
Thursday, February 11, 2010
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An Alaska attorney who has gone up against a drug giant and won has a new target.
Jim Gottstein is taking on psychiatry in Alaska for over-prescribing medicine to children.
Gottstein was the attorney who forced Eli Lilly to pay more than $1 billion in settlements over the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa.
He also heads up a group called the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, which filed the lawsuit. The group claims over-prescribing is disabling children for life.
A growing number of children are prescribed psychiatric drugs, and a growing number of mental health advocates say we should be alarmed, because those drugs are often unnecessary
"They're really a chemical lobotomy, because that's what they do to the brain," Gottstein said.
The list of those named in Gottstein's lawsuit is long: More than a dozen child psychiatrists, health agencies, state officials, and pharmacies that include Walmart, Fred Meyer and Safeway.
"Eighteen-year-olds are having heart attacks from these drugs," Gottstein said.
He says he's tried to get the state and Alaska psychiatrists to use more restraint.
He says they are using powerful drugs on children that are intended for adults.
"People put on these drugs have a life expectancy of 25 years shorter than the general population. These drugs are so harmful, that they literally kill people," Gottstein said.
"A lot times it's easier to medicate someone and just have them go numb than to actually help them process all these emotions," said Candice Tucker, who is now a part of Facing Foster Care in Alaska.
Tucker was in foster care for three years and believes her social workers and doctors relied too heavily on drugs.
"I remember every medication I've ever been on," she says.
"Abilify, Respridol, Trozidone and Benzatropine for the side effects," she listed off.
Those are just a few of more than a dozen drugs that she no longer takes and feels she never needed.
Tucker believes an anti-depressant she was prescribed made her suicidal.
"It angers me, because there are harmful side effects to these medications. They cause health problems. Half of them aren't even recommended to be used by someone under the age of 18, yet they're being prescribed to four-year-olds," she said.
Gottstein believes foster children are one of the largest groups of children that are over-medicated in Alaska. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop this practice.
"Children and youth in foster care basically have no rights. They're at the whim of the bureaucracy," Gottstein said.
"We haven't been able to get numbers in terms of how many youth in foster care are on psychiatric medications. I think that might be because the state doesn't know. So this is an opportunity for them to look into it," said Amanda Metivier with Facing Foster Care in Alaska.
Metivier says Facing Foster Care in Alaska has about 130 members and about 95 percent of them say they were prescribed psychiatric drugs while in foster care.
For now, those named in the lawsuit are largely silent, saying the litigation against them prevents them from discussing the accusations.
"It's a huge betrayal of the trust that we've placed in the psychiatrists," Gottstein said.
A number of those named in the lawsuit say that medications are prescribed safely and responsibly, and the services provided meet national standards.
Dr. Wandal Winn, a past president of the Alaska Psychiatric Association, said, "From a medical perspective, the lawsuit is a distortion. Our profession is science-based with best practices standards, peer reviews and quality assurance."
Winn called the lawsuit disturbing and a limited view of what psychiatrists do.
The lawsuit asks for $5,500 for each prescription. If courts find that doctors prescribed them unnecessarily, that could be considered a false claim and Medicaid fraud.
With potentially thousands of prescriptions involved, the amount of money involved is huge.
Contact Rhonda McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org
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