New Study Shows U.S. Government Fails to Oversee Treatment of Foster Children With Mind-Altering Drugs

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Background on the Drugs

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers are some of the so-called psychotropic drugs -- psychiatric medicines that alter chemical levels in the brain, which impacts mood and behavior.

Of the psychotropics, antipsychotics, like Ke'onte's Seroquel and others like Abilify, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Geodon, Invega, Latuda, Fanapt, Clozaril, Saphris and Solian, are among the most powerful.

Of all the psychiatric medications, antipsychotics are, by far, the most prescribed, especially for foster children. Foster children are given antipsychotics at a rate nine times higher than children not in foster care, according to a 2010 16-state analysis by Rutgers University of nearly 300,000 foster children.

While doctors aren't exactly sure how or even why antipsychotics work, most experts believe antipsychotics block specific receptors in the brain, which are thought to be overactive in patients with symptoms of psychoses, such as hallucinations and delusions.

Antipsychotics were initially designed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Only Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal, and Zyprexa have very limited FDA-approval for use in children.

LEARN MORE: Antipsychotics Most Commonly Prescribed to Foster Children

However, antipsychotics are being widely prescribed off-label, meaning for conditions the FDA has not approved them for, for things like agitation, anxiety, acting out, irritability, behavior issues and even as sleeping aids.

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, chief medical officer for Medicaid in the state of Washington, said, "Nobody gets up in the morning to overdose kids. It just happens that it's a momentum in the system. Kids get aggressively diagnosed and sometimes we look for the easy solution, which is a pill over psychotherapy or better parenting."

Critics charge that, because of their sedating properties, antipsychotics are actually being used in foster care treatment facilities as chemical restraints.

Dr. Fouras is particularly concerned about the use of these drugs as chemical restraints.

"We are trying to put a nice shiny term that sounds [as if] 'oh, we're just restraining the kid,' [when] really what you are doing is just knocking them out to make them less of a problem for you," Fouras said.

This widespread and frequently unchecked use of antipsychotics is concerning considering the serious side effects of these medications. Antipsychotics change a person's metabolism, frequently cause significant weight gain and can increase the risk of diabetes.

In addition to tremors, muscle spasms and restlessness, antipsychotics can cause tardive dyskinesia, a permanent and irreversible condition where a person has involuntary movements of the tongue, lip, mouth, and arms and legs.

While less common with newer antipsychotics, each year 5 percent of people on antipsychotics will develop tardive dyskinesia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Many experts are also concerned about the prolonged use of antipsychotics in children, given there are absolutely no long-term safety studies for their use in children.

Fouras said, "Some of these medications have only been out for 10 to 15 years, so that is not enough time to know what is going to happen over the long term."

ABC News' Keturah Gray (@kettynyc) contributed to this report.

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