In 1999, the Center for Science and Law reported that a large number of anti-psychotic medications were being given to juvenile offenders – regardless of whether or not they had actually been diagnosed with a mental disorder. It was described as “a mere replacement of the old-fashioned use of physical restraints to numb and quiet the juveniles.”

At that time, a prominent adolescent psychologist named LeAdelle Phellps argued that the administration of anti-psychotic drugs “…prepares youth so they can respond to treatment…by reducing aggression by having calming, soothing effects, it makes [the youths] more malleable.”

Since that time, many dangerous side effects caused by anti-psychotic medications have come to light. Drugmakers such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of Abilify, have been targeted by numerous lawsuits. In fact, in the case of Abilify, side effects can result in an inability to control impulsive behavior – ostensibly, the very reason the drug is being given in the first place. Yet, this has not stopped the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) from buying over $666,000 worth of Ability over a two-year period for young inmates.

This is even more shocking, given that Bristol-Myers Squibb paid over $515 million in fines and penalties to the U.S. Department of Justice ten years ago in order to settle allegations that Abilify was being marketed for unapproved “off-label” treatments.

Florida is not alone in this questionable practice. In 2015, Public Source reported that Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system was giving young offenders anti-psychotic meds at “alarmingly high rates.” Over a seven-year period, the Keystone State purchased enough pills to treat one-third of juvenile detainees at any given time. Furthermore, this was going on without any meaningful oversight.

Why is this happening? Several years ago, former Florida psychologist Robert Jacobs, quoted in an article published in Youth Today, said:

Fifty years ago, we were tying kids up with leather straps, but now that offends people, so instead we drug them. [Today], we cover it up with some justification that there is some medical reason, which there is not.”

That certainly explains part of it, but there is another reason that is all-too-familiar. According to Palm Beach Post reporter Michael LaForgia:

In some cases, the drugs are prescribed by contract doctors who have taken huge speaker fees and other gifts from makers of antipsychotic pills, companies that reap staggering profits selling medications.”

As is virtually always the case, one only needs to follow the money.

Of course, as expensive as medication is, it is far cheaper and easier to simply keep these young people sedated then to offer any meaningful mental health treatment.

Last month, 37 states sued drugmaker Astra-Zeneca over allegations that its psychotropic prescription drug, Seroquel, was illegally marketed for off-label use in children and elderly patients. The U.K.-based drugmaker settled the claims for $68.5 million. Meanwhile, as attorneys for the Sunshine State were negotiating the settlement, the FDJJ continued to administer Seroquel to youthful inmates.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.