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Foster children who are on Medicaid receive psychotropic drugs, including antidepressants and antipsychotics, at higher rates than children not in foster care who receive their health care through Medicaid, a new government study finds.

The study, by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found foster children were much more likely to be prescribed these drugs in amounts that exceeded the maximum dose for a child’s age, The Wall Street Journal reports. Foster children were also more likely than other children on Medicaid to be taking five or more psychotropic drugs at once.

The report acknowledges that children in the foster care system may have greater mental health needs than other children.

The drugs in the study included the antipsychotics Abilify and Risperdal, antidepressants such as Cymbalta and Paxil, and attention-deficit hyperactivity-disorder drugs such as Ritalin and Strattera. The report found foster children were between 2.7 and 4.5 times as likely to be taking  psychotropic medication as non-foster children on Medicaid, depending on which state they lived in. The report reviewed records of children in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas in 2008.

“There is no evidence for use of five mind-altering medications in an adult, let alone a child,” Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said at a Senate hearing to discuss the report last week.


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