The Time to Curb Forced Drugging is Now: In Your State, and Nationally

Edward Opton, JD, PhD
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Is the time ripe for MadinAmerica readers to organize legislative action to curb the use of drugs as chemical restraints?  Recent developments in Congress, in the state of Washington, and in California suggest that the answer is yes.

In California, the state Senate voted unanimously this month to enact a package of four reform bills to reduce the use of antipsychotics and other psychotropic medications to control the behavior of children in foster care.  If approved in the state Assembly and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, the legislation will be the nation’s most far-reaching effort to reverse the trend of the past 15 years.  That trend has been an ever-increasing use of drugs to control children in foster care, especially those in congregate care, i.e., “group homes.”

Simultaneously, California’s social services and health services agencies are preparing to adopt new policies that should implement the legislation at the ground level, county by county.  Already, as of October 2014, the Department of Health Services has implemented a “prior authorization” policy for antipsychotics.  Prescriptions for antipsychotics to be administered to foster children and youth now must be approved by pharmacists at the state agency.

The State of Washington has moved in a similar direction, enacting House Bill 1879, which was signed by its governor on May 18, 2015.

Little Open Opposition: What it Signals

Perhaps the most significant feature of the California actions has been that during the Senate’s consideration of the proposed legislation there was no open opposition from the interest groups that have blocked past efforts in California and other states.

For example, organized medicine, represented by the same lobbyists who represent a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, easily squelched a similar legislative effort in Georgia a few years ago.  In 2015, in California, the same groups had the same reasons to protect their interests.  Instead, they remained largely silent, on the sidelines, perhaps because they saw that the tide was running against chemical restraints.  As King Canute knew, it is wiser to watch from the shore than to try to hold back the tide.  The absence of open opposition to the California legislation and its approval by unanimous vote in the Senate may be a sign that the political tide has turned   Organized efforts to curb chemical restraints may now have a chance to succeed.

The Time May be Ripe in Congress, Too

Representative Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), responding to the California Senate action, told San Jose Mercury-News reporter Karen de Sá, “I know that it will inspire other states.  I have no doubt about it.  We are going to make sure that we can do the same on a federal level.”  Rep. Bass, together with 15 other members of Congress, recently supported the President’s budget request for $250 million to reduce reliance on medications.  As described by de Sá, the funds would “fund state programs that reduce psych med use among foster youth by creating programs that more effectively treat trauma.”

In the U.S. Senate, on May 19, Senators Hatch (R-Utah) and Wyden (D-Oregon) of the Committee on Finance held a hearing on congregate care (group homes), where much of the worst misuses of psychotropic medications take place.  One of their witnesses, Alexandra Morgan Gruber, testified about the “myriad of medication” she was forced to take.

“At some points, I was so overmedicated that developed a tic in my face. . . . [which] I still have . . . I had no choice . . . the staff administered the medicine . . . if we refused . . . we would be [punished by loss of all privileges].  When I left the group home, the long list of diagnoses . . . were dismissed . . . .”

Time for Action

The time may be ripe for legislative and Congressional action.  We will know that the time was ripe if Mad In America readers and others engage now in successful reform efforts.

For information on what you can do, contact us: [email protected]

[Full disclosure: the author is active in the PsychDrugs Action Campaign of the National Center for Youth Law.  He has worked on efforts to reform psychotropic medication practices in California.]

12 COMMENTS

  1. I think the reason this campaign is succeeding is that the public sees psychiatric abuse of children differently from the abuse of adults. In most people’s eyes, I think, this situation has a different moral dimension.

    I have been saying for a while now that our human rights movement should be paying more attention to the plight of children. I think the reason the usual suspects didn’t fight the laws Ned Opton is telling us about here is that they knew it would be very bad public relations for them.

    I was a foster child too, many years ago. I wasn’t drugged, thank God, because the drugs psychiatry uses against people now had not yet been developed then. But I had shock treatment at the age of six as part of an experimental group of several hundred children. Many years later, when I organized the successful vote to ban shock treatment in Berkeley, the fact that I had it as a child had, I think, a powerful effect on the voters.

    But what about this? If drugs and shock are bad for children, how can they be good for adults? If a child gets a shot of an antibiotic, or surgery to correct some injury, no one finds that disturbing. These are legitimate medical interventions, and hopefully they are helpful.

    I think a large part of the public, probably a majority, knows in their hearts what psych drugs and shock represent. Psychiatric propaganda has made the idea that these atrocities are good for people part of the conventional wisdom, which like a lot of other conventional wisdom, most people are afraid to contradict. But when kids are involved, it is just too much for people to stomach.

    So fighting the abuse of kids in the “child welfare” system can accomplish more than helping these kids, which obviously is very important. It will also open people’s minds and hearts to looking at what the psychiatric/drug company system is doing to our whole society.

  2. I celebrate your victory over chemical restraints against children in the foster system.

    Unfortunately, the chemical restraints against young adults such as my daughter will become easier to apply under the law if the Murphy Bill is passed.

    This is where big Pharma has marshalled its forces for the time being. This is the major front.

    Unfortunately, the spirit behind the legislation to protect children in the foster care system is not carried over to adults who are considered a ‘danger to themselves or others’ by their family members. Tragically, pseudo consumer advocacy organizations such as NAMI are behind the Murphy Bill giving it a veneer of legitimacy. As a parent who has spent the last six years seeking the fellowship of other parents whose adult children were repeatedly involuntarily committed like my own, I can tell you from experience, that the unresolved grief and trauma of the parents of hundreds of thousands of the ‘mentally ill’ has hardened into cynicism, militarism, and downright hatred for agents of change such as authors on this site.

    I can also tell you from experience that parents who have bought into NAMI’s propoganda are grateful for the lower legal standards of commitment in the Murphy Bill, they do not care about their child’s constitutional rights, and they are clueless as to the relationship between the personal agency and empowerment of their child and his/her recovery. Furthermore, they do not listen to or acknowledge the stories of those who recovered without medication; they pretend these stories do not exist and they become irrational and angry when you suggest that their child could be better served under a different paradigm of mental health care, one that valued choice and empowerment of their child. Because they are stuck in the morass of their own trauma and grief, when they ‘lost’ Johnny to ‘mental illness’ they buried Johnny and acquired a new permanent identity, of a parent whose sole function was to reduce ‘stigma’ and get the rest of society to have pity for their child based on their child’s faulty genes and disease.

    Not being able to go through another 9-1-1 crisis or the cycle of hope to hopelessness, they simply decided to shut down, reasoning that Johnny as a zombie was better than Johnny going in an out of crisis.

    Although I share your optimism that big Pharma may be conceding the issue of chemical restraints against children in the foster care system, the Murphy Bill appears all but inevitable with the powerful lobby of NAMI behind it.

    • That’s a very effective comment, Madmom. You’re a good writer and you’re right about the Murphy Bill. Is it much of surprise that he’s a “mental health professional”? Something fishy about that.

      After Ferguson, millions of Americans became aware of the abuse of citizens in the streets, by cops. If they only knew what went on behind closed doors, with medical personnel, not cops, as the violent oppressors. A cop can shoot you or arrest you. Medicals can torment you for weeks on end and destroy your mind and your personality.

  3. madmom, I think you should not be as despairing about the Murphy bill. If it were inevitable, it would have passed by now.

    And there are pockets of resistance within NAMI as well. I remember perhaps a year ago an article here in MIA by a woman from South Dakota who, after hearing Bob Whitaker’s presentation that was allowed at that year’s NAMI national conference, declared that she was very angry at the way she had been lied to by the NAMI national leadership and the drug companies that control it.

    In Connecticut, from what I have been told, the state’s NAMI actually helped beat back a loosening of forced commitment and drugging laws, in cooperation with the group called Ablechild.

    I think you are in Oregon, a very liberal state, and I know there is a fair amount of activity that is critical of psychiatry there. What our movement needs is a family group that represents the constituency that NAMI claims to represent, but in an honest way. It would be very valuable, and I think possible, to organize such a group there.

    It is a hard task that we have, to fight an evil system that has so much power, and it is easy to give in to despair. I feel that way a lot myself. We have a society controlled by a tiny minority that values money and power at all costs, that sees other human beings as profit centers to be exploited instead of cherished and nurtured. Our country is on the verge of being destroyed by these forces.

    But I think eventually, the long arc of history will swing in our direction, and it’s our job to make that happen. For myself, nothing will bring back what psychiatry took from me, but I am comforted when we support one another and make progress, as small and gradual as it may be.

    So please don’t give in to despair. I tell myself that every day.

  4. Karen De Sa deserves a Pulitzer Prize for the amazing work she did on this topic. The legislation would not have been so easily passed without her amazing work. We really need to get some media allies to write this kind of article in support of our cause.

    — Steve

  5. THANK YOU for bringing us this news and challenging us to action! It sounds like this legislation has an excellent chance of passing in California, but is probably NOT a done deal. If so, Mad in America folks in CA can at least write to their local papers, call their representatives and do what we can to support this. Once passed, it will be a tremendous resource for getting similar laws passed in other states, and maybe even nationwide. Up until now in Illinois it has been very easy to shoot down even the most modest initiatives to “study the problem” by labeling the proponents Scientologists. That won’t be so easy to do if this becomes the official policy of a big state like California.

    Among other things, this is a racial justice issue, at least where I live. In general Blacks get less access to voluntary mental health services, just like they get less access to everything in the healthcare system. But wherever psychiatry is used to coerce and control, Black people become the first victims. Black kids are way, way over-represented in the foster care system — and without family members empowered to speak for them, they’re the first to get drugged.

    There was a sad and startling news story last month to the effect that suicide among Black children under 12, boys especially, had doubled since 1993. Startling, because in every other age group white suicide rates are double or triple those of Blacks (higher than Latinos too). And also because 1993 was not a very good year for the poorest youth in the US. It was the height of the crack epidemic, and a time of wholesale dismantling of public housing, welfare etc.

    No one said it publicly that I know of … but I thought the drugging of kids on Medicaid, and especially kids in foster care, had to be a factor in this tragedy. Ed, do you think this is true, and can we help in some way to sound the alarm?

  6. This link is from the references for the article itself looks like the most general one for checking out the neuroscience behind using imagery for self-help. I thought the potential benefit vs. detriment was explained well in the article posted, but the surveyed run of ideas of how to keep clients “deciding right for themselves” about “how to get better” had its usual screwy undertones of “because then you needed us” showing up as their motivation from time to time.

    http://dbic.dartmouth.edu/~carolyn/pdfs/Christian_2015_JOCN.pdf

  7. PLEASE! Don’t forget about the other vulnerable group of Citizens who are being egregiously assaulted with Chemical Restraints by predatory healthcare workders; our beloved Elderly! My petite, 82 year old Mother died just days after being forcibly injected with the powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drug Haldol, against her will and against MY orders as her Durable and Medical Durable Power Of Attorney-In-Fact by an unscrupulous Nurse at Shlomo Rechnitz’s (google his name) Roseville Point Health and Wellness Center. She did not have mental illness and she did not have dementia. She was only supposed to do a week of short term physical therapy rehab for a back sprain when she was so egregiously assaulted. We must include elderly victims in this legislation because predatory healthcare workers are ignoring the law and stripping our elderly of their Federal and State legal Right to be free from these deadly and unnecessary drugs. I will NOT rest until those involved are arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sent to State Prison for what they did to my Mother!