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November 15, 2004 - The NewStandard (US Web)

Bill to Screen, Medicate Kids May Hit Senate This Week

by Christopher Getzan

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Legislation to test children for "mental health disorders" and then provide them commercial drugs -- which would be highly controversial if people knew about it -- could reach Congress during this month's lame duck session.

Funding for a controversial Bush administration plan to submit the nation's school children to mental health testing and drug treatment may end up reaching the Senate floor this week, as GOP congressional leaders look to clear the legislative slate in order to set the table for George W. Bush's second term.

The plan, called the New Freedom Initiative (NFI), is the keystone of a package of initiatives by the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, a group of doctors and mental health care professionals established by the Bush Administration in 2002.

As previously reported by The NewStandard, the Initiative's critics, ranging from grassroots mental health advocacy organizations to government whistleblowers, have said the NFI's proposals do little else but establish state-mandated markets for the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry.

In 2003, the Commission published a report recommending states encourage more mental health testing and treatment for Americans and suggested public schools were an ideal place to access students and begin to root out undiagnosed and "severely disruptive" mental health issues. It pointed to a program begun during George Bush's governorship of Texas called the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP), which set a standard operating procedure within a flow chart allowing psychiatrists to identify and medicate possible conditions.

"It doesn't have the Orwellian goal of drugging the populace for a political purpose; it's the Orwellian goal of drugging the populace for an economic purpose." --Allen Jones, WhistleblowerIn a report posted on the website of the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights quotes a whistleblower who says doctors staffing the Texas program had strong links to pharmaceutical companies, and those doctors often prescribed expensive, brand-name drugs over cheaper alternatives. The source of that claim is Allen Jones, a former investigator for the Office of the Inspector General who says he was fired for speaking out against a TMAP-style program in Pennsylvania.

The NFI plan, said Jones, does not "have the Orwellian goal of drugging the populace for a political purpose." Instead, "it's the Orwellian goal of drugging the populace for an economic purpose."

Another critic of the initiative, holistic mental health advocate David Oaks, says the end result of the New Freedom Initiative's recommendations will be nothing short of "hundreds of thousands of more kids being put on psychiatric drugs." Oaks is director of the mental health advocacy group Mind Freedom.

In Oaks' opinion, the issues of child mental health are not only more complicated than just testing for disorders and putting kids on drugs, but are also colored by powerful societal pressures and millions of dollars in drug revenues. Oaks has called the president's plan "No child left undrugged."

Nevertheless, the plan does have some powerful supporters. The American Psychiatric Association, which itself receives some of its funding from drug companies, has voiced approval for the plan, and a number of other states are already researching and implementing their own versions of TMAP.

During a "lame duck" session of Congress, Senate leadership is trying to push through unfinished appropriations measures for fiscal year 2005. The Bush administration had requested about $44 million for states to implement mental health screening. The House version of the bill, which has already passed, includes $20 million in support of the New Freedom Commission's plan. It is unclear how much the Senate will appropriate.

On the coattails of the bill's passage out of the House, Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) is now championing the "Let Parents Raise Their Kids Act," which would prevent federal dollars to fund any universal system of mental health screening that does not hinge on parental-guardian consent. Previously, Paul had failed to insert an amendment to the appropriations bill blocking federal funding of the NFI recommendations.

© 2004 The NewStandard.

For a more thorough report, see "White House May Be Planning Nationwide Program to Diagnose, Drug Kids", also by Christopher Getzan, in the The NewStandard.

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