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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f770410000PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.More about PublicSource here.

PA Juvenile Offenders Given Psychiatric Drugs At High Rates

Illustration by Anita Dufalia

They are the toughest kids in the juvenile justice system. And, in some ways, the most vulnerable.

In the months they spend at correctional facilities, they receive mood-altering psychiatric medications at strikingly high rates, particularly antipsychotic drugs that expose them to significant health risks.

Psychiatric medications are prescribed to manage mental health and behavioral symptoms; antipsychotics are a type of psychiatric medicine approved to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and irritability with autism.

Kids are more vulnerable to the severe side effects of antipsychotics — rapid weight gain and diabetes among them — yet doctors and juvenile justice experts told PublicSource they’re confident the drugs are being used off-label in the state facilities to induce sleep or to reduce anxiety or aggression.

Some child advocates refer to this use as ‘chemical restraint.’

Over a seven-year period, enough antipsychotics were ordered to treat one-third of the confined youth, on average, at any given time, according to a PublicSource analysis of drug purchasing information obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which operates the youth correctional facilities.

Only 1 to 2 percent of kids in the U.S. take antipsychotics.

Read more of this report on the website of our partner PublicSource