Three out of four children attending
special schools for emotionally disturbed children in Broward County
are being prescribed powerful mind-altering drugs, many of them by
school psychiatrists, a School Board investigation shows.
Side effects experienced by children on such drugs
were described by district administrators as ``mild.'' They included
weight gain, sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, appetite changes and
skin rashes. Many of the drugs have not been proven safe or
effective for children.
School administrators looked into the use of psychotropic drugs
at schools for severely emotionally disturbed children at the
request of board member Lois Wexler on May 15. The board had been
set to approve the contracts of three psychiatrists at the three
schools, which educate children from kindergarten through grade 12
who were sent to the schools after psychiatric evaluations.
``The numbers are alarming,'' Wexler said. ``It is time for us to
contract out and do an in-depth evaluation, and raise the level of
consciousness, at least at this public school system, over what is
At Tuesday's School Board discussion, Superintendent Frank Till
called for the creation of a committee to come up with a way to
monitor the way children are medicated in the three schools. The
committee will issue quarterly reports.
``The threshold question for me is whether we should even be
prescribing medication for these students,'' Till said.
Earlier, Till enlisted the aid of Lee Johnson, district
administrator of the Department of Children & Families, to
review the school system's existing practices for the use of drugs
among disturbed children.
Wexler has said her concern over the practices of school
psychiatrists was first aroused by a series of reports in The Herald
regarding the use of such drugs among foster children. Children's
advocates have suggested the drugs are issued more for the
convenience of caretakers, calling the use of some drugs a form of
According to the school district report, 107 of 164 students at
Sunset School in Fort Lauderdale have been prescribed some type of
psychotropic drug. At Whispering Pines in Miramar, 125 of 152
students have been prescribed such drugs. And at Cross Creek School
in Pompano Beach, 136 of 170 students have been prescribed the
Wexler said she was particularly concerned about the use of a
particular type of drug, called an atypical anti-psychotic, at
Sunset School. According to the report, several students at Sunset
have been prescribed such drugs, which include Risperdal, Zyprexa
At Whispering Pines, 13 students have been prescribed the three
drugs, five by the school's psychiatrist, Nyrma Ortiz. At Cross
Creek, 20 students have been prescribed the anti-psychotics, six of
them by the school's doctor, Munir Madiwale, records show.
Jack Levine, president of the Center for Florida's Children in
Tallahassee, said he has become increasingly uneasy about the
widespread use of psychiatric drugs among children.
``We are looking at a very troubling trend, that sounds at its
core to be about convenience and simplicity,'' Levine said Tuesday.
``No matter what the pharmacological justification is, or may be,
this seems to be a move for simplistic solutions to complicated
problems, for convenience, and for savings,'' Levine added. ``I'm
afraid for the children, and, frankly, I'm afraid for the parents.
Herald staff writer Susan Ferrechio contributed to this report.