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Cover 04/10/2013

Big Pharma's Troubling History of Pushing Drugs on Foster Kids

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Child protection workers found Jo Angel Rodriguez and her siblings living in a roach-infested home that reeked of urine and spoiled food. The kids, often plagued with lice, slept on soiled, squalid mattresses, according to documents filed in a local court. Rodriguez’s mother lost custody of her children in 2006 when complaints surfaced she and her boyfriends shot heroin in front of them. Child protection workers later discovered Rodriguez had been sexually abused by a family member.

The system bounced Rodriguez and her five siblings from one foster home to another over the next two years. But by 2009, things were getting better. The 11-year-old girl finished a stint at a North Texas counseling center, where doctors taught her how to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with abuse and years of neglect. By fall of that year, she rejoined a sister and brother in a San Antonio foster home.

Rodriguez’s foster parents soon complained she was too much to handle, however. In September 2009, they tried unsuccessfully to commit her to Laurel Ridge Treatment Center. Officials with the Texas Department of Family Protective Services were leery, according to one report, suspecting the foster parents had a pattern of dumping kids into psychiatric treatment centers whenever they acted out. Rodriguez had, in fact, already come away from numerous psychiatric evaluations without a clear diagnosis; doctors seemed to agree, though, that she suffered from some mix of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

A week later, Rodriguez’s foster parents persisted, claiming she had been aggressive at home and, during time-out one day, said she might harm herself. This time Laurel Ridge jumped into action, admitting the girl and diagnosing her with bipolar disorder.

Staff at the facility gave Rodriguez glowing behavior reports, lauding her for participation in group therapy sessions and for having good manners. One nurse’s report says Rodriguez became protective of the younger girls in her unit.

Two days after her commitment, doctors put Rodriguez on nightly doses of Abilify, an antipsychotic. She began to sleep through the day, becoming withdrawn and refusing to eat. She suffered frequent vomiting and diarrhea.

On September 26, 2009, nurses complained Rodriguez became aggressive when they tried to bathe her.

Dr. Lindy Bankes, a University of Texas Health Science Center resident moonlighting on a weekend shift, prescribed Rodriguez a 1-milligram dose of Risperdal, another antipsychotic. When Rodriguez refused to take the pill, Bankes gave her a 20-milligram shot of Geodon instead.

Three hours later, nurses found Rodriguez in her bed, unable to speak or move, with “shallow and labored” breathing. Due to a stunning breakdown in communication, as evidenced by facility records detailed in court, it took nearly two hours for an ambulance to show. When paramedics arrived, Rodriguez couldn’t move her limbs and had cold, clammy skin. She gasped for air. Her lips were pale, and her blood pressure had tanked so low the paramedic couldn’t get a reading.

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