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April 18, 2007

Minnesota Battles Mental Screening
And reflections on Virginia Tech

         Most states are encountering legislative efforts to impose universal psychiatric screening on children and young people. The proposals come in many forms, and the language changes as the battles intensify. Attempts to universally psychiatrically screen our children, with all of its dangers, are not limited to the public school system, as can be seen in many of the proposals below.

        Some experts are calling for increased mental screening in the wake of the worst mass shooting in US history at Virginia Tech.  There are preliminary reports that the alleged shooter had been on antidepressants. These drugs have been implicated in many school shootings, including Columbine; Springfield, Oregon; Granite Hills, California; and Red Lake, Minnesota. In addition, the suspected gunman was already exhibiting erratic and disturbing behavior and writings that had prompted recommendations by faculty to seek counseling. Mental screening would likely not have revealed anything new, but likely have falsely identified many others who did not need help, draining away scarce resources.

         TeenScreen is a subjective and unscientific suicide screening instrument of vague and leading questions. By its own admission, 84% of the students TeenScreen red-flagged are falsely identified, a fact TeenScreen advocates consider harmless. TeenScreen is being promoted by the same public relations firm whose clients include the pharmaceutical companies and their front groups that make the very drugs that are all too frequently used for children and adolescents. These medications have shown little evidence of effectiveness and are associated with suicide and other dangerous and deadly side effects.

        After a huge public outpouring against TeenScreen, the Democrat-controlled House has disguised it in a "Safe Schools Levy" and labelled it generically as "suicide prevention tools" in the omnibus education spending bill (HF 6). This YouTube link shows some of the live debate. Screening will come up for a floor vote today, Thursday, April 18th, and every House member will have the opportunity to vote for or against an amendment to remove the disguised TeenScreen.

        There is no suicide prevention screening in the Senate bill. The fate of TeenScreen depends upon whether it survives all of the following: a House floor vote, the House/Senate conference committee, a promised Governor veto (due primarily to tax issues), whether Republican legislators can uphold a veto, and further negotiations if a veto is upheld.

        More details on these state actions can be viewed on our EdWatch website and here.

Pre-Kindergarten Screening
       Democrats in the Early Childhood Committee blocked efforts to require that parents be notified of existing state law allowing them to conscientiously object to and opt out of preschool screening which includes socioemotional (mental health) screening and nosy questions about family life. This amendment was offered by Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud), supported by all the committee's Republicans, and opposed by the Democrats. Rep. Gottwalt has also offered this as separate legislation (HF 2068). The Senate education bill does contain this protective language after an amendment was offered by Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton). For more details on these votes and the problems with screening young children, click here .

The House Health and Human Services omnibus spending bill (HF 297, now changed to SF 2171) contains many worrisome psychiatric provisions. It will also be on the House floor this week.

1.) Mental Screening of Poor Children
         The House HHS spending bill (SF 2171) contains a pilot program that would psychiatrically screen the children of those receiving benefits through the Minnesota Family Investment Program.  Besides making discriminatory and stigmatizing assumptions about how poor people raise their children, screening in this program will lead to more drugging of poor and minority children than is already happening. According to a study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 90% of children who see a psychiatrist will receive medication. Poor children on government programs like Medicaid are more likely to receive the strongest anti-psychotic drugs compared to children with private insurance. For more detail on this program, see this article.

         Rev. Herron, an African-American pastor of Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis, representing many members of the community group Parents Speak Out, testified twice against the children of the poor being targeted for mental screening. Rev. Herron stated that the poor and minorities are aggressively drugged with dangerous and addictive psychiatric medications as a result of unreliable and subjective mental screening. He testified that universal mental screening is destructive to their families.

         Rep. Sondra Erickson (R- Princeton) offered an amendment to eliminate the program and funding for the discriminatory and stigmatizing mental screening of children whose parents receive welfare benefits.  The amendment was defeated by a party line vote (14 No to 5 Aye votes) without comment by the Democrats:
Voting to protect poor and minority children from screening:  Laura Brod, Matt Dean, Sondra Erickson, Steve Gottwalt, and Joyce Peppin.

Voting to screen, label, and potentially drug poor and minority children:  Thomas Huntley, Larry Hosch, Julie Bunn, Patti Fritz, Tina Liebling, Diane Loeffler, Erin Murphy, Mary Ellen Otremba, Sandra Peterson, Maria Ruud, Nora Slawik, Cy Thao, Paul Thissen, Neva Walker.
        The Senate bill does not contain these provisions. The House bill will be heard on the House floor this week. If this provision is included in the final House version, a conference committee will determine whether this discriminatory screening of poor children will be in the final appropriations bill.

2.) Evidence-based mental care
         "Evidence-based" basically means use of psychotropic drugs even on very young children. There is overwhelming evidence that these drugs are ineffective and destroy the health and lives of children (See www.ahrp.org and www.icspp.org for many articles about this.) This is especially the case for poor and minority children in government programs, like welfare and foster care. It is also quite likely that these funds will be used to push projects like the University of Minnesota's mental health research center in North Minneapolis that would screen and treat children starting in infancy. An amendment by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R- Princeton) to strip out $6 million of "evidence based children's mental health care" was defeated in by a party line vote without comment in the Health and Human Services Committee, with all Democrats voting no, and all Republicans voting yes, except for those who abstained.

3.) Mental Health Tracking System for all students
        This provision spends "$448,000 in fiscal year 2008 and $324,000 in fiscal year 2009 to the commissioner of human services to fund implementation of the mental health services outcomes and tracking system."  This is another one of a very long list of government medical data grabs in this enormous bill. There are no consent provisions for government acquisition of this data. Mental health data is the most sensitive of any kind of medical record there is, and with the stroke of a pen, the state will have access to the private encounter data between patient and provider, whether adults or children are involved. This provision needs to be vigorously opposed and stripped from the bill.

4.) Drugging of Foster Children
         An unsuccessful attempt was made to pass an amendment by Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) to require a study of the use of psychotropic drugs in foster children.  This an urgent matter, because over 50% of the foster children in Texas, 55% of those in Florida and two thirds of those in Massachusetts are on psychotropic drugs, sometimes as many as 16 different drugs, starting as young as age three. A California chapter of the NAACP passed a resolution opposing the rampant drugging of foster children in that state.  Although the chairwoman of the Mental Health Division, Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Minneapolis), feigned some interest in this amendment, she couldn't be bothered with it for this committee and urged the committee to oppose it. All Republicans on the committee supported the amendment, which failed.

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952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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