Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sarah Palin failed vulnerable children in Alaska

I'd like to revisit a subject close to my heart, involving the rights of children.

In April 2009 I wrote a post about a lawsuit against then governor Sarah Palin and a host of officials with various state agencies. The suit was filed by Psych Rights, the Alaska-based mental health law project, seeking to stop the de facto forced medication of children under the state's care - foster kids, juvenile detainees - and children covered under state health programs with psychiatric medications. It was filed on September 2, 2008.

In February 2008, before filing the present lawsuit, Jim Gottstein wrote to Sarah Palin on behalf of Psych Rights:

"It is a huge betrayal of trust for the State to take custody of children and youth and then subject them to such harmful, often life-ruining, drugs. They have almost always already been subjected to abuse or otherwise had very difficult lives before the State assumes custody, and then saddles them with a mental illness diagnosis and drugs them. The extent of this State inflicted child abuse is an emergency and should be corrected immediately. Children and youth are virtually always forced to take these drugs because, with rare exception, it is not their choice. Psych Rights believes the children and youth, themselves, have the legal right to not be subject to such harmful treatment at the hands of the State of Alaska. We are therefore evaluating what legal remedies might be available to them. However, instead of going down that route, it would be my great preference to be able to work together to solve this problem. It is for this reason that I am reaching out to you again on this issue."

Gottstein got a mealy-mouthed answer to this letter from an agency head, but there's no indication that Palin ever saw the letter. There was no response from her office.

When I wrote the last update on this topic, Sarah Palin was still governor and I didn't know the outcome of the lawsuit. Today I found out what happened.

In May 2009, the trial court decided PsychRights lacked standing and the case should be dismissed and the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal on October 1, 2010, including the approximately $4,000 attorney fee award against PsychRights.

Another lawsuit was filed by PsychRights more recently.

Jim Gottstein is taking on psychiatry in Alaska for over-prescribing medicine to children.

The list of those named in Gottstein's lawsuit is long: More than a dozen child psychiatrists, health agencies, state officials, and pharmacies that include Walmart, Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Gottstein believes foster children are one of the largest groups of children that are over-medicated in Alaska. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop this practice.
He says they are using powerful drugs on children that are intended for adults.

"People put on these drugs have a life expectancy of 25 years shorter than the general population. These drugs are so harmful, that they literally kill people," Gottstein said.

"A lot times it's easier to medicate someone and just have them go numb than to actually help them process all these emotions," said Candice Tucker, who is now a part of Facing Foster Care in Alaska.

Tucker was in foster care for three years and believes her social workers and doctors relied too heavily on drugs.

"I remember every medication I've ever been on," she says.

"Abilify, Respridol, Trozidone and Benzatropine for the side effects," she listed off.

"It angers me, because there are harmful side effects to these medications. They cause health problems. Half of them aren't even recommended to be used by someone under the age of 18, yet they're being prescribed to four-year-olds," she said.

I included the latest case because practices that preceded Sarah Palin and continued under her administration are still widespread and still harm vulnerable children.

It seems to me that there's a culture of collusion against the most vulnerable members of society in Alaska. Various agencies, that should be looking after the interests of these children, take them away from a bad situation and attempt to "solve" their problems through the use of unsuitable medication, creating other problems that will have repercussions in their future lives.

News from England highlight some of these repercussions:

Ten girls who were heavily sedated while living at a care home during the 1970s and 1980s went on to have children with a range of birth defects, an investigation revealed.

As teenagers at the Church of England-run Kendall House home in Gravesend, Kent, the ten were restrained with huge doses of tranquillisers and other drugs, according to BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

It is feared hundreds of other girls who were in UK care homes during the same period and suffered the same mistreatment may also be at risk of having children with birth defects. (Daily Mail, UK)

Alaska has a higher than average incidence of birth defects. Governors and state agencies seem incapable of acting in the interests of vulnerable people in Alaska. The attitude of those in charge range from total indifference to outright collusion. They seem incapable of joining the dots and co-ordinating services to improve the quality of people's lives and prevent their ever damning statistics from getting worse. The courts help legitimize the position of the state and its agencies.

Sarah Palin can't be sued now. But she should bear responsibility for her legacy, gladly perpetuated by those who came after her.

If we take Sarah Palin's record in this particular area, add her destructive rhetoric regarding healthcare, her general indifference to the vulnerable, young and old, can the country really afford her the opportunity to make any future decisions on their behalf? Can anybody turn a blind eye while she influences the political conversation with her simplistic and shortsighted soundbites?

This and older posts on Palingates may be read together by clicking on this link.

1 comment:

Mara said...

I have no opinion on this one way or the other because I haven't studied it enough. That said, I sincerely hope that Psych Rights is not affiliated with Scientology, as this statement from 2006 claims.

Theirs sounds for all the world exactly like the CCHR agenda. COuld that be one reason why they failed to succeed in Alaska?