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Government News
APA Says Bill Biased Against MH Treatment
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 24 page 10-25

The House of Representatives passed a measure last month, opposed by APA, that is intended to discourage schools from any mandate that students take psychotropic drugs as a condition for attending class.

The bill, named the Child Medication Safety Act of 2005 (HR 1790), mandates that states prohibit schools from requiring that students take any drug to alter "perception, emotion, or behavior" as a condition of attending class. The measure would cut federal education money from states that do not comply with the bill within one year.

"This is a very difficult bill to oppose because no one wants children told they have to be on medication as a condition of getting an education," said Lizbet Boroughs, associate director of APA's Department of Government Relations. "That is a decision that the parents make with their [child's] physician."

APA opposed the measure based on a provision in the bill that was" prejudicial" and "inflammatory" against psychiatry in particular and against mental illness treatment in general, Boroughs said.

Supporters of the bill said that the legislation would help prevent schools from coercing parents into seeking prescriptions for children with psychiatric problems by threatening to bar them from the classroom unless they take the drugs.

"Parents should never be faced with the requirement of medicating their child against their will and better judgment to ensure their child will receive educational services," said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the bill sponsor, in a written statement.

Opponents of the bill were also concerned about a provision requiring the U.S. Comptroller General to report on several issues, including the" prescription rates of medications used in public schools to treat children diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and other disorders or illnesses."

APA asked Kline to drop that provision until the results of a similar General Accountability Office study requested under legislation approved last year were reported. Those requests were rejected.

The bill passed easily based in part on the strong support it received from the House leadership, which favored the bills' emphasis on reinforcing parental rights against the encroaching authority of the government, Boroughs said.

Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.) said she opposed the bill because it was advanced on the basis of anecdotal evidence alone. None of the witnesses who spoke in favor of the bill at a May 6, 2003, hearing of the Education Reform Subcommittee of the Education and the Workforce Committee could produce data showing that school systems are now forcing students to be medicated in large numbers as a requirement for attending class, Davis said.

"I still believe passing this legislation is an irresponsible rush to legislative judgment without all the facts," Davis said in a recent statement on the House floor. "We should not pass legislation over anecdotes and isolated incidents, and I have yet to see evidence that this legislation is necessary."

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) testified at the 2003 hearing that it was concerned that barring schools from requiring such medications might discourage educators from discussing students' potential psychiatric problems with parents.

Lance Clawson, M.D., who represented AACAP at the 2003 hearing, said conservative estimates have found 15 million American youngsters need mental health treatment and services at any time, but only about 20 percent of those ever receive treatment. The key to treating children with such conditions successfully, he said, is for parents and teachers to identify problems as early as possible and make sure the children get accurate and effective treatment.

The House passed the measure 407-12, while an identical bill passed the House last year 425-1. APA has worked hard to make sure no companion measure is introduced in the Senate, Boroughs said. So far those efforts have paid off, but with solid support among the House Republican leadership it remains possible that the legislation will advance as an amendment to a larger bill.

The text of the Child Medication Safety Act of 2005 is posted at<http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>; search on the bill number, HR1790.EH.

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