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Court Case Alleges Children in US Custody Were Drugged

Drugging People Without Consent is Unacceptable at Any Age

Unaccompanied minors are seen at the Bristow facility, in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Bristow, Virgina, U.S., June 21, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

A case filed in a California court alleges that children in United States custody are being forcibly drugged to control them at detention facilities.

The case focuses on children who are held by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. These are not the children who were recently separated from their families under US government policy.

Shocking as the allegations are, they echo a terrible and commonplace reality. Recently, a Human Rights Watch report, “They Want Docile,” documented how US nursing homes routinely use powerful antipsychotic drugs to silence older people with dementia, often without consent. We found that about one in every six older people living in such facilities is drugged with these medications, often to make them easier to handle for staff.

Allen Wagner, 79, having his hair cut by his wife, Charlene, in his room at a nursing home in Overland Park, Kansas, July 27, 2017.

Imagine a nursing home gave your mom drugs -- without your permission -- to sedate her. 

Families share their stories

As Ruth D., a 62-year-old woman who said she was given Seroquel (an antipsychotic medication) without her knowledge or consent in a Texas nursing home, told us: “[It] knocks you out. It’s a powerful, powerful drug. I sleep all the time. I have to ask people what the day is.” Evidence indicates that antipsychotic drugs increase the risk of death in older people with dementia.

Taking these drugs over time can lead to irreversible movement disorders like tardive dyskinesia, characterized by stiff, jerking movements, as well as high blood sugar and diabetes and/or low blood pressure, which causes dizziness and fainting. The California court documents alleging the use of antipsychotic medications in immigrant children claim some of these problems, and that the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved, or has only given limited approval, for children to be administered some of these drugs.

Using these drugs to control people in nursing homes is prohibited in US nursing facility regulations, but Human Rights Watch found the government is failing to enforce those rules. Using these kinds of medications to control children in detention centers would be a serious human rights abuse.

The government needs to take immediate steps to stop these practices in nursing homes, and ensure that they are not being visited on any children in detention.  If the government does not enforce its own rules for everyone equally, who is safe from this treatment?

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