Use of psychotropic drugs in foster children

Families describe adoptive children being on unnecessary mood-altering drugs

CIBOLO, Texas – Lethargic, unable to put thoughts together, acting like zombies and refusing to eat.

These are the ways some families have described their adoptive children who were prescribed psychotropic medications while under the state’s care.

Sonya and Jeffrey Oyer, from Cibolo, know the symptoms all too well.

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“We gave him that pill and within 20 minutes, he was a different person,” said Sonya, adoptive mother to 15 year old Patrick and 12 year old Andrew.

“He was only eating 400 to 600 calories a day when he came here,” Jeffrey said of the couple’s son, Patrick.

The use of psychotropic medications has been a pervasive issue within the state's foster care system.

Disturbing stories of the use of psychotropic drugs in foster children are detailed in a federal lawsuit in which Corpus Christi Judge Janis Jack ultimately slammed the state system.

In one instance, the suit describes a child's use of medication being continued "because of a tendency to be defiant and talk back."

In another case, the suit describes the time children spent in state care as "notable for the use of psychotropic medication to control what often was age-appropriate behavior, or at the very least, behavior expected from children exposed to violence and upheaval in their young lives."

Doris and Randy Reeves, from San Antonio, adopted Marissa, 12, and Tiffany, 14, in 2013.

Marissa had been in foster homes and a psychiatric hospital before being adopted.

She had been prescribed two psychotropic drugs.

“Risperdal and Lexapro,” said Doris. “They said she had PTSD. Her paperwork said she was bipolar and schizophrenic.”

Doris, a special education teacher, did not believe her daughter suffered from those conditions after observing Marissa for several days.

“I told Randy, ‘this child does not have all that mess and I want her off those things,’” Doris said of the medications. “She has ADHD and a lack of love. That’s all she has.”

“Rather than dealing with these children’s issues, they just dope them up,” said Randy.

The Reeves’ daughter, Tiffany, has an intellectual disability and cerebral palsy.

She came to the Reeves’ on medications, too, but not for mood and behavior.

Instead, her condition was one visible to the naked eye: a severe ear infection.

“Her ear actually had puss pouring out of it,” Doris said. “And what I was told from her last foster mother was 'don’t even worry about getting a doctor's appointment. Just call the doctor and they will prescribe the meds for her ears.’”

“The ear infection literally burst her ear drum and it began to deteriorate the inner ear bone,” said Randy.

Tiffany would ultimately have ear surgery.

The Reeves describe one daughter as taking prescription mood-altering medications they felt were unnecessary while the other wasn’t getting the medical attention she needed.

The Oyer family tells a similar story.

Their sons, Patrick and Andrew, were taken from their home after their biological mother died and their biological father became abusive.

They were prescribed medication for ADHD, sleeping pills and eventually were given mood-altering drugs to help them cope with the anxiety of possibly having to testify in court against their father.

But they never had to.

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“They were not removed from the medication after that,” Sonya said. “And when we met them, they were still on this medication. And that was probably 16 months later.”

“The one pill we could give Patrick at noon,” she continued, “his whole demeanor would change. He was talking like this and very fluent and awake, and then he took it. Probably 20 minutes after it was in his system, he was just... there.”

Andrew was taking sleeping pills.

Sonya and Jeffrey began to research their medications.

"And it said children under the age of 15 should not be on this medication,” Sonya said. “Well, he was 11 at the time."

The Oyers made the decision to stop the meds.

"Patrick said two key things coming off the medication,” Jeffrey said. “First thing he said was 'I feel free. I feel that I can be me. And I know who I am now because I didn’t know who I was then."

“They can actually respond to their emotions in a good way. They can relate to things better. Night and day,” Sonya said.

The state has made its own improvements, as well.

The percentage of foster care children using psychotropic medications has dropped over the years.

According to a report from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, nearly 40 percent of all Texas foster children were on psychotropic meds in fiscal year 2002.

By fiscal year 2016, that number dropped to roughly 23 percent.

Both the Reeves and Oyers acknowledge there were challenges taking their children off of the drugs.

But love and patience, they say, turned out to be the perfect prescription.

“They need structure, they need nurture,” said Jeffrey. “And most of all they need to be loved."

"They have a voice. Let them speak,” Sonya said. “Don’t just go put them on a pill and think everything is going to be okay."

"Some children need meds. But we have to be careful about what we give to them,” said Randy.

“They’re just meant to be,” Doris said. “They’re meant to be in our house and loved by us and be our children.”


About the Author

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.

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