By Scott Allen
Following the death of a 4-year-old Hull girl from an overdose of psychiatric drugs last December, state officials have set up a unique early-warning system to spot preschoolers who may be getting excessive medication for mental illness. In just the first three months, the system has flagged the cases of at least 35 children for further investigation, and the number is sure to rise.
The state Medicaid program is analyzing records of 82,900 children under age 5, looking for those taking at least three psychiatric drugs or a single prescription of a powerful antipsychotic drug. Mental health professionals will review the care of these children and, if necessary, contact the prescribing doctor for an explanation, say officials of the state insurance program for lower-income families, known as MassHealth.
Although cases like the overdose of Rebecca Riley are rare, the prescription of psychiatric drugs to young children is not. Doctors last year prescribed Clonidine – a drug sometimes used to treat hyperactivity that was found in lethal quantities in the Hull girl’s bloodstream – to 955 children under age 7 in MassHealth. Doctors also prescribed antipsychotic drugs, which raise the risk of diabetes and obesity, to 536 children under age 7, according to MassHealth records. MassHealth could not say how many of these cases involve children under age 5 and might be subject to review…