Palm Beach Post
Shoddy records stall drug probe at Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
By Dara Kam and Michael LaForgia
November 4, 2011

TALLAHASSEE — Shoddy record-keeping by the Department of Juvenile Justice is hampering the agency\’s own investigation into the dosing of jailed children with powerful antipsychotic drugs, the department\’s head told a top state lawmaker this week.

In a letter to state Sen. Ronda Storms, Secretary Wansley Walters wrote that the in-house review was taking a \”frustratingly long time\” largely due to a \”lack of electronic medical records.\”

With no centralized database, officials have no easy way of telling how many jailed children are taking antipsychotic drugs or whether the drugs were prescribed properly.

Storms, who met with Walters on Tuesday for an update on the drugging probe, said Thursday that measures should be taken to improve the department\’s records system.

\”What I was surprised by and what (Walters) is surprised by is there is no easy record-keeping in DJJ to determine who is doing what,\” said Storms, R-Valrico, head of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. \”That is a problem. And the fix to that is relatively easy in my opinion.\”

Florida\’s inability to access its own medical records was a key finding of a Palm Beach Post investigation published this spring. The series showed that the Department of Juvenile Justice plied children with heavy doses of powerful antipsychotic drugs, and that a third of the psychiatrists hired to prescribe drugs for jailed children had taken payments or gifts from drugmakers.

In May, responding to The Post\’s stories, Walters ordered internal investigators to scrutinize the department\’s use of the potent medications, which can cause serious health problems in children. But the effort, Walters wrote Tuesday, is moving slowly because investigators are slogging through paper records from more than 124 jails and homes statewide.

Although Storms and Walters agreed that DJJ medical records should be easily searchable, they apparently have different ideas about how such a system should work.

Storms said she wants the department to tap into the Florida Safe Families Network, a case management database the Department of Children and Families operates. The system is supposed to track prescriptions for mind-altering drugs.

In September, Walters\’ department asked the legislature for about $3.5 million to pay for an electronic medical records system and $37,200 to set up a child psychiatry hot line for phone consultations.

Storms said she wasn\’t holding out hope that the legislature would approve new computer systems at a time when lawmakers are looking to slice $2 billion from the budget. She said she feared such a proposal \”has a snowball\’s chance in this environment.\”

As DJJ\’s internal review drags on, the effort is churning out information that wasn\’t previously available, Walters\’ letter suggests.

A look at 4,153 children in state custody on a single day in September, for example, revealed that about 20 percent were taking mind-altering drugs.

Walters also wrote that her department spent about $2.7 million in the past two years on psychotropic medications, which include antipsychotics.

Juvenile justice spokesman C.J. Drake said Thursday that Walters\’ views DJJ\’s use of antipsychotics as a \”critically important issue.\”

\”The information we provided to the senator underscores the seriousness and urgency with which we are dealing with it,\” Drake said. \”We want everyone to know that we don\’t support the misuse of psychotropic medications to treat the young people in our care.\”