State board attempts to control student use of behavioral drugs |

State board attempts to control student use of behavioral drugs

Lee Harstad

A recent Colorado State Board of Education resolution against the use of psychiatric drugs may cause more trouble than help.

In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre April 20 in Littleton, Colo., controversy has raged over what may have caused the shooting. The real reason may never be known, but because of this incident and other violent crimes being committed on school grounds, the Colorado State Board of Education (CSBE) is attempting to control the use of psychiatric, behaviorial drugs in schools.

A resolution by the CSBE recognizes there are “highly negative consequences in which psychiatric prescription drugs have been utilized for what are essentially problems of discipline which may be related to lack of academic success.”

The CSBE Resolution basically states educators, teachers and administrators should not have a say to whom behavioral drugs are prescribed and they should not identify children they deem having behavioral problems.

The Mental Health Association of Colorado (MHAC) is “immensly discouraged” by this action. The association believes the resolution will prove detrimental to the children of Colorado and to the already set health-care policy.

Licensed psychiatric social worker Dave Spencer of Yampa Valley Psychotherapists in Craig does not agree that politics should decide who should take certain medications.

According to Spencer, psychotropic drugs “absolutely do not” cause violent behavior.

“This is political garbage,” Spencer said. “This type of decision needs to be made with doctors and parents.”

From a school administrator’s perspective, Craig Intermediate School (CIS) Principal Bruce Gregg does not believe the resolution is different from previous policy.

“I don’t know if the resolution at CIS is going to change the way we do business,” Gregg said.

According to Gregg, when a concerned parent calls the school for information on behavioral problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), CIS does not make judgement.

“We tell them to speak with a family doctor and ultimately go through a child psychologist,” Gregg said. “We are not equipped to make that diagnosis at the school.”

Gregg also believes there are fewer behavioral problems in students now than 10 years ago. According to Gregg, there are eight students using psychotropic medicines at CIS and in past years those numbers were as much as doubled.

Gregg also believes behavioral drugs do not cause violence.

“There are some kids walking through the CIS halls experiencing success as a result of being on the medication,” Gregg said.

A big supporter of this resolution is the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) which has urged reviews of negative psychiatric drug effects such as violence and suicide. According to the CCHR, Eric Harris, who, along with Dylan Klebold, was a gunman at Columbine, was taking the antidepressant Luvox, which its manufacturer, Solvay, says can cause frequent nervous system side effects including “amnesia, apathy, manic reactions and psychotic reactions.”

CCHR, established by the Church of Scientology, has long campaigned for parents to be fully informed about the potential risk of psychiatric drugs. CCHR also cites other cases of violent acts while students are on behavioral drugs. These include an incident on May 21, 1998, involving 14-year-old Kip Kinkel who shot and killed his parents and then went on a wild shooting spree at his Oregon high school that left two dead and 22 injured. He was reportedly taking Praz and Ritalin and had been attending anger management classes.

Advocates for mental health claim the resolution started from a campaign by the Church of Scientology that blames school violence on psychotropic medications.

Local public health nurse and former school board member Donna Reishus believes doctors should have the final say in prescribing behavioral drugs, not the school board.

“My feeling is that there are children that need to be on certain drugs for psychiatric conditions,” Reishus said. “It should be up to the physician to decide whether to prescribe.”

Reishus said there are more special-needs kids now then 10 years ago and this behavior makes it harder for classroom teachers.

Mental Health Association of Colorado believes educators should feel able, even encouraged, to discuss all concerns that affect the classroom with parents. Mental health officials said this candid discussion is necessary because educators are often in the position to be among the first to notice health problems in children. Early intervention, according to the MHAC, and its positive effect on successful treatment will suffer. MHAC said the state school board chose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of positive effects of appropriate and successful treatment.

“This is medicine and should be left up to medical doctors,” Spencer said.