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Over-drugging Developmentally Disabled Patients, Part 1 of 2


Posted on Jan 13, 2012

A recent NY Times review exposes massive drug abuse at institutions for the developmentally disabled. The paper surveyed newly-released records and interviewed experts, professionals, and family members of patients with conditions like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

The fundamental conflict is that individuals with mental retardation often exhibit disruptive behavior like impulse control, anxiety or attention deficit. Psychiatrists and psychologists advocate addressing the source of the problem through therapy and personalized guidance rather than through the institutionally-preferred method of attacking symptoms with psychotropic drugs, which affect the brain's chemistry and may cause powerful side effects. NYS now administers "tens of thousands of powerful pills" like these daily.

It is worth mentioning that the developmentally disabled are more prone to mental illness, thereby requiring psychotropics, but diagnoses were often not utilized and when they were, overmedication resulted anyway. Moreover, low-level employees were often given wide discretion in administering medication.

Reform seems to be taking root thanks to the Times' investigation. The Office for People With Developmental disabilities is implementing new oversight rules, new drug-tracking software, and a new office -- a chief of pharmacy -- to coordinate drug use.

Reformers have their work cut out for them. Four of the top ten medications given to the developmentally disabled in NY are psychotropic. They are often given psychotropics instead of adequate multivitamins. Risperdal is the second-most used drug, although a 2008 study showed it was less effective than were placebos. And because so many drugs are given to patients, it is difficult to then identify which work, to later cut dosages.

The law, meanwhile, prohibits medication to be given for any reason beyond absolute need, but oversight has thus far been weak.

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