In January 2013, the Lakota People’s Law Project made a report to Congress detailing findings pertaining to South Dakota’s corrupt foster system. An issue of particular concern was the over prescription of medications to Native American foster youth. Since this release, the important discussion has gained momentum.
American Indian children make up 13.4% of South Dakota’s population, yet 56.3% of the foster system is comprised of Native youth. This fact alone is cause for concern, yet further investigation reveals even more startling truths that are relevant to the entire nation’s foster care system.
Between 1999 and 2009, South Dakota’s foster care prescriptions skyrocketed from 841 to 3,112, a staggering 370% increase. The type of medication most often purchased and used fell under the category of psychotropic or anti-psychotic, drugs that are prescribed for people with serious mental illnesses that typically affect less than 1 percent of the population.
In the particular case of South Dakota, the medication was being used to subdue rather than treat children, vastly enriching both the state workers, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies at the direct expense of the foster care children. Further research has demonstrated that those drugs may actually be harmful to developing brains, and have detrimental side effects such as weight gain in extreme cases suicide.
The Medicaid spending which paralleled this trend grew from $300,987 to $4,016,148, or 1,334%, during the same ten-year period. The year between 2005 and 2006 alone brought about a double in prescriptions.
The average medical cost of a Native foster child in South Dakota in the former year was $1,133.49 while general members of the population averaged at about $351.51.
The utter lack of discretion on the part of those doling out psychotropic, or mind altering drugs, to foster minors is also alarming. A 2007 survey by the University of Chicago set out to “examine various means used by state child welfare agencies to provide consent for, and oversight of, psychotropic medications for children in state custody…” and found that the state of South Dakota does not enforce adequate policies of oversight in processing consent for psychotropic medications.
Some of these startling trends are exclusive to South Dakota, unmatched in severity by other states. The mistreatment of Native youth in foster care, often through substance abuse, is a complex issue. Mending this crisis will require probing into minute details and reworking the status quo of mental health evaluation. According to Carolyn Barcus of the Society of Indian Psychologists, criteria presented in the widespread Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is severely biased against minorities and tailored sharply to white standards.
This is evidenced in the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health’s 2002 examination of the present parameters of mental healthcare, organized by George W. Bush. This group found scientific knowledge lacking in long-term effects of medication, impact of trauma on mental health, and mental health realities for minorities–all of which directly apply to the mental health of Native Americans in foster care.
The problem is not restricted to Native Americans in South Dakota, as demonstrated by a recent story in a California newspaper that dealt with the same problem of overdrugging vulnerable children in the state foster care system.
The San Jose Mercury News published a five-part series in August 2014 investigating the prevalence of over-prescription in bay area foster care.
This comprehensive story covers individual experiences and widespread commonalities alike. Former members of the foster system describe the after effects of their psychotropic drug use: tremors, mental shortcomings, and general aches and pains. It is a tragedy that state caregivers continue to sentence children to a lifetime of detriment.
It is vital that this outreach continues to grow and word is spread about the injustices of the foster care system.
The Lakota People’s Law Project is proud to have put out such important information and encouraged by participation of major sources such as the Mercury News for doing their part in raising the matter to the public eye. We are committed to bringing justice to the youth wronged by a shoddy system and inspired by others doing the same.