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Maine DHHS sued by foster children, advocacy groups who allege improper treatment with psychotropic drugs

Seeking a class action suit, the plaintiffs say children as young as 5 are being harmed by the drugs, the Portland Press Herald reports.
Credit: Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

PORTLAND, Maine — Children's rights advocates and attorneys representing six foster children filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court claiming the state is improperly medicating children in foster care with psychotropic drugs.

The suit names Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Todd Landry, director of the Office of Child and Family Services, as defendants, the Portland Press Herald reports.

The complaint, filed by national advocacy group Children's Rights, the law firm Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, and Maine Equal Justice on behalf of the six foster children, alleges a "systemic failure" of DHHS and OCFS to oversee and protect the more than 2,000 children placed by the state in foster care from inappropriate use of powerful psychotropic medications to address mental health conditions "or simply to control their behavior."

Psychotropic medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, mood stabilizers, stimulants, and antipsychotics.

"However, there is a profound 'gap' between what Maine 'believe[s] to be important to keep children safe when using [] powerful [psychotropic] drugs and what is actually happening," the complaint continues.

The suit cites a 2018 report by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that said nearly 30 percent of children in Maine's foster care system who were prescribed powerful psychotropic medications did not receive a basic "treatment plan" or regular review of their medication, the Press Herald reported at the time.

That report also determined Maine had one of the highest rates of foster care children prescribed psychotropic drugs.

Credit: NCM

In a statement to the Press Herald, DHHS spokeswoman Jackie Farwell wrote, in part, “This lawsuit led by an interest group out of New York is not about protecting Maine children. If Children’s Rights, Inc. cared about the welfare of these six children or others, it would have reported these allegations to Maine DHHS through the appropriate established channels, allowing us to immediately investigate and take appropriate action if needed. Instead, they chose to sit on this information over the course of more than a year, disregarding the alleged harm that they now claim in this lawsuit.” 

Farwell said Childrens' Rights, Inc. never contacted DHHS during a "year-plus" investigation.

For more information, see today's Portland Press Herald.

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