Three organizations are suing the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) and Maryland Social Services Administration (SSA) after allegations concerning possible harm to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
On Jan. 17, the ACLU of Maryland, Disability Rights Maryland and Children’s Rights announced a lawsuit against both Maryland’s DHS and SSA on behalf of foster children within their system who have been over-prescribed psychotropic medicine and lacked access to their medical records, among other alleged issues.
This lawsuit covers foster children in every county in the state, and excludes Baltimore City, which is undergoing a separate lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges violations of several federal laws.
The goals of the lawsuit include ensuring more oversight in prescription, proper diagnosis, access to medical records, and informed consent of the patient. The trio of organizations looks forward to the incoming administration of Governor Wes Moore to help with correcting these issues.
“We are looking forward to reform, but put this at the top of the list and get something done,” said Samantha Bartosz, the deputy director of Litigation at Disability Rights.
This lawsuit started after foster children had to go to medical and psychological checkups without having their medical records, later reaching out to Children’s Rights, a child advocacy organization based in D.C.
“The goal of the lawsuit is to remedy systemic oversight that harms children and families,” said Megan Berger, the assistant managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland.
A similar lawsuit was made by the Children’s rights against the state of Missouri for poor recordkeeping, and Bartosz believes that this legal precedent will make this case easier to litigate and provide evidence for.
The speakers did not disparage the prescription or use of psychotropic medicines in all cases. Bartosz stated that there are proper usages of psychotropic drugs.
Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Dr. Christopher Bellonci stated that much of the concerns root from the stacking of three or more psychotropic drugs, which he explained is very dangerous. Berger said that the lack of psychotropic drug research on children has added a further layer of danger in these prescriptions.
As many as 34% of foster children in Maryland are prescribed psychotropic drugs, compared to 8% of children nationally. Of those foster children who are prescribed, 52% are prescribed more than one psychotropic drug at a time.
For many foster children, the constant state of transition makes record keeping difficult. This lawsuit aims to implement a process where doctors and mental health professionals can access full and complete medical records for foster children, and implement an adequate and enforced informed consent process, where the benefits of the child are the primary consideration, along with a secondary review process of the outcomes.
“Seventy-five percent of the children being prescribed these medications have no history of diagnosis,” Berger stated during a press call.
The advocates also sought to highlight that not all foster children cases are in the event of neglect or being orphaned. If a parent is unable to pay for the costs of medical treatment for their child, they may end up in foster care. Sara Furlow, a Next Friend in the lawsuit, said this lawsuit is particularly important in these cases.
Psychotropic medications are defined as drugs used to treat mental health disorders. Xanax, adderall and prozac are three examples of psychotropic drugs. There are five different categories: depressants, stimulants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medications.