New Hampshire is the latest state to step up the monitoring of medications intended to immediately control the behavior of children in foster care.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed House Bill 120 earlier this month, nearly three years after a federal inspector general’s report counted the state among the five with the highest rates of foster kids who were administered psychotropic medication.
As was the case in the other states examined in the report, New Hampshire often lacked rigorous monitoring of the use of the powerful drugs, which if used improperly can cause serious side effects including drowsiness, weight gain, nausea, headaches, involuntary movements and tremors, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General’s Office said. Also, these “medication restraints” were not developed with children in mind, so there is limited research into how they can be used safely. That term refers to the involuntary administration of medication to immediately control behavior.
New Hampshire now joins multiple other states that have in recent years either changed their laws to improve monitoring (following American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry standards) or have considered similar legislation.
When the law goes fully into effect, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services must make sure that any children in out-of-home care has had recent, comprehensive medical and psychosocial examinations before seeking a prescription or renewal for psychotropic drugs. Department nurses will be in charge of monitoring the use of these drugs in accordance with professional standards.
Effective medication monitoring can reduce the risk of inappropriate dosing and inappropriate drug combinations, but the proper use of psychotropics can be a challenge. Foster children have often been moved frequently, so staff may not always have access to their medical and social histories, increasing the risk of mistakes. The new law also requires that children’s caregivers or guardians be consulted, as well as the district nurse of the department’s Division for Children, Youth and Families.