'They Use it Like Candy' - How the Prescription of Psychotropic Drugs to State-Involved Children Violates International Law
62 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2010 Last revised: 19 Oct 2010
Date Written: October 17, 2010
The prescription of psychotropic drugs to children in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Children in state foster care systems and juvenile prisons are particularly at risk of overmedication with psychotropic drugs. On any given day up to 50% of children in some state foster care systems and juvenile prisons are administered psychotropic drugs, often without documentation or medical justification supporting their use, and under conditions that constitute egregious departures from sound medical practice.
Psychotropic drugs act directly on the brain to affect behavior, emotion, or mood. Because they are deemed to be highly addictive and susceptible to abuse and diversion into the illegal drug trade, some are designated as controlled substances under the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971. This international treaty requires the United States government to protect the public – including children in state custody – from medically unjustified exposure to psychotropic drugs. In particular, the treaty requires that psychotropic drugs be prescribed only for medical purposes and administered in accordance with sound medical practice, and that the government prohibit their advertisement directly to the public.
Analyzing the conditions under which state-involved children are prescribed and administered these highly addictive and powerful drugs, this Article concludes that the United States is in violation of the 1971 Convention because it permits drug companies to advertise controlled psychotropic substances such as methylphenidate, commonly sold as Ritalin, directly to the public, fails to restrict the prescription of psychotropic drugs to state-involved children for medical purposes only, and does not ensure that psychotropic drugs are administered to children in accordance with sound medical practice. The Article calls on the United States government to take swift and aggressive steps to comply with the 1971 Convention so as to ensure that children in foster care and in juvenile prisons are protected from excessive and unwarranted exposure to psychotropic drugs.
Keywords: Foster Care, Juvenile Facilities, Children, Health, Psychotropic Drugs, International Law
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