Tamarac mother sued Fort Lauderdale Hospital and a psychiatrist who
worked there, saying they overmedicated her teenage son with a cocktail
of mental health drugs -- some of which have not been approved for the
treatment of children.
The boy, Emilio Villamar, died of a sudden heart attack. He was 16.
a swimmer and water polo player, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by
Dr. Sohail Punjwani in March 2002. Within the next year, the teen was
given 16 different psychiatric drugs, six of which were still being
administered when he died, said Michael S. Freedland, who is
representing Emilio's mother, Norma L. Tringali.
also been treating 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child who had
been prescribed several psychiatric drugs before he hanged himself in
April. In the wake of Gabriel's death, the Department of Children &
Families has launched a wide-ranging investigation into the agency's
dispensing of mental health drugs.
Norma Tringali, 56, said she
asked Punjwani and other medical professionals why her son was being
given so many powerful drugs -- including six separate anti-psychotic
drugs, typically used to treat schizophrenia, and one drug, called
Cogentin, that is used primarily to curb the side effects of other
''[Punjwani] said he needed them,'' Tringali said.
''He was over-medicated,'' Tringali said of her son. ``He was like a zombie, walking with heavy paces, always tired.''
Attorneys for both Punjwani and Fort Lauderdale Hospital did not return messages Thursday afternoon seeking comment.
Thursday, DCF administrators released new details on the investigation,
saying 3,068 children in the agency's care were taking mind-altering
drugs -- 118 of them infants, toddlers or youngsters under age 6. That
comprises 13 percent of all the kids in DCF's care.
those aged 13-17, make up 31 percent of the dependent children
prescribed mental health drugs. That amounts to 1,695 children taking
at least one psychiatric drug, according to the numbers released
Thursday's count includes almost 400 children who were
not recorded when DCF released a census of children on medication a
week ago. At the time, DCF Secretary George Sheldon acknowledged the
census was a bit of a moving target, and agency leaders expected the
numbers to rise.
''I have no confidence in the data that was
released in 2007 and 2008,'' Sheldon told The Miami Herald Thursday,
referring to reports DCF submitted those years to the state Senate in
response to a 2005 law that required better oversight of dependent
children being administered psychiatric drugs.
`WORK IN PROGRESS'
''This is a work in progress,'' Sheldon added. ``We've got to get it better.''
the new findings: Of the 50 children in state care younger than age 6
whose files were reviewed by DCF, in not one case had parents or a
judge provided informed consent for the use of mind-altering drugs,
Sheldon said. ``That's disturbing.''
The 2005 law required the consent of a parent or judge before foster kids can be administered mental health drugs.
parent of a child who has been removed will, for all practical
purposes, sign anything,'' Sheldon said, noting that gaining meaningful
permission from a parent overwhelmed by the removal of a child is next
Tringali's lawsuit alleges that Punjwani provided
healthcare to Emilio that ''deviated and departed from the prevailing
professional standard of care exercised'' by most doctors by failing to
monitor the effects of anti-psychotic drugs on Emilio's heart, failing
to do regular cardiac testing, and failing to consult with a
cardiologist or other doctor with more experience with the
heart-related side effects of anti-psychotic drugs.
''These are incredibly powerful drugs, and they require a tremendous amount of monitoring,'' said Freedland.
FOUND AT HOSPITAL
was found slumped over in his room at Fort Lauderdale Hospital -- where
he was being treated for his mental illness -- with blood dripping from
his mouth or nose, Tringali said. He was taken by ambulance to Broward
General Hospital, where he slipped into a coma.
The teen died March 29, 2003.
course, I was in shock,'' Tringali said. ``Can you imagine: 16 years
old? He was doing sports. He was a good swimmer. He played water polo.
He was a very good student.
''It has been very bad for the
family, very bad,'' she said. ``I don't live one day, not one day,
without thinking about Emilio.''