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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

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Illustration by Anita Dufalia
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PublicSource

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