Children’s Mental Health in the 108th Congress

Children’s Mental Health in the 108th Congress

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly


By Karen R. Effrem, M.D.,  EdWatch Board of Directors

August 3, 2004


Both universal mental health screening and the coercive drugging of children were hot topics in the after-election “lame duck” session of Congress, completed just before Thanksgiving. These issues were prominent in the consideration of both the omnibus budget bill and the reauthorization of the special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The following is our analysis of these issues along with implications for the next session of Congress.

THE GOOD:  The good news on these issues comes from the reauthorization of IDEA. Several hundred of you contacted Congress via the e-action alert about these special education issues and we thank you. Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner and the Committee staff also deserve kudos and thanks for the following:

  • The Senate language to fund grants to screen children “at risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties” was struck from the final bill.  Given all of the other places that mental health screening is rearing its ugly head and being funded by the federal government, this is truly good news.
  • The House language stating that academic screening does not constitute a special education evaluation survived in the final bill. Perhaps now the epidemic of reading problems that constitute 90% of special education referrals will be dealt with by teaching systematic phonics before children are mislabeled with a specific learning disability and unnecessarily placed in the special education system.
  • Parents and special education students are protected against coercion by the schools to take some of the psychiatric medications – those on the Controlled Substances list, meaning drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine, the potent and dangerous stimulant drugs used with frightening frequency to treat children labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  The language, authored by Congressman Max Burns and passed by the House as an amendment to IDEA, also survived the conference committee.  This is an important precedent and a very good step in the right direction. Contrary to reports by other groups, however, this amendment to IDEA does NOT cover any of the antidepressant medications that have been the subject of FDA and congressional hearings, and which are now required to carry the most serious black box warnings due to their tendency to cause suicidal thoughts and actions. The amendment also does NOT cover the antipsychotic medications used to treat the growing epidemic of children labeled bipolar. Side effects of those drugs include obesity, diabetes and neurological problems.

THE BAD – Sadly, despite media coverage by Dr. Laura, G. Gordon Liddy, World Net Daily, News Max, many talk radio interviews across the country, and thousands of calls and emails to Congress, grants to fund the New Freedom Commission (NFC)  recommendations, which include universal mental health screening and treatment with ineffective and dangerous medications, were not stopped.  $20 million was appropriated for state grants to implement the NFC recommendations. Physician and  Congressman Paul’s excellent language that required parental consent for screening before these programs were funded was not included. Dr. Paul wrote a letter signed by more than twenty Members urging the parental consent language. House leadership, including Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader DeLay, and Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Regula accepted the Paul language. All of these House Members and those that voted for the original amendment in September deserve our thanks. Sadly, that language protecting the basic right of parental consent was dropped in the Senate.

Despite great disappointment at this setback, there were a few silver linings that this issue has brought.  First, the amount funded ($20 million) was less than half of what was requested ($44 million) by the Senate and the administration.  Thanks to the excellent work of Congressman and physician Ron Paul and his staff, and his Liberty Committee directed by Kent Snyder and their excellent alerts, media coverage, many other groups and your dedication and response to our e-alert, at least 19,000 people contacted Congress to oppose universal mental health screening, the dangers, and the loss of parental rights that these programs entail. Thank you.

Finally, please know that your actions are still having an impact. Congressional staff in the offices of Members who support these freedom-robbing programs are complaining bitterly about Congressman Paul and the groups that are standing for liberty to protect their children from labels and drugs, saying that their national screening programs are put in jeopardy by our work.  We must continue the fight to destroy this program before it takes full root.

In addition to the $20 million for the New Freedom Commission grants, the omnibus appropriations bill also provides via HHS “$2 million for grants to local educational systems or non-profit entities to identify and test evidence-based practices to treat teenagers suffering from mental, emotional or behavioral disorders,” which will result in more psychiatric drugging. It also provides $7 million for “grants and cooperative agreements to develop early intervention and prevention strategies to address the growing problem of youth suicide” via the Garrett Lee Smith suicide prevention law, which will also result in more screening and drugging of children and adolescents.   (See our July 26th update)

The Department of Education is spending $5 million on “Mental Health Integration in Schools” that we are still investigating, as well as $1 million for Senator Kennedy’s disastrous early childhood mental health program called Foundations for Learning.  (See our update.)

THE UGLY – The ugliest parts of this situation are:

    • The apparent complete capitulation of the administration and the Senate leadership to the pharmaceutical industry and mental health bureaucracy to the point that they cannot even support the basic right of parental consent.  These screening programs will subjectively label a child with a vague and dubious mental diagnoses based on political and/ or religious beliefs that will follow them for the rest of their lives. They will lead to increased drugging with ineffective and dangerous medications that can cause suicide, violence, cognitive toxicity, and diabetes.
    • That the White House would even consider former Food and Drug Administration chief Mark McClellan as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS will administer the grants to implement the New Freedom Commission recommendations of universal screening and drugging. The FDA has completely failed in its mission to protect the public from ineffective and dangerous medications. The  two most recent disasters are the antidepressants in children and Vioxx in adults. Physicians and the public are completely unable to make informed decisions about pharmaceuticals, because for years, the FDA has allowed the industry to cover up evidence of dangerous side effects. Only positive studies of drug effectiveness have been published. There is no evidence that the cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry will end with someone from the FDA in charge at HHS, especially since the pharmaceutical industry is already profiting enormously from the New Freedom treatment recommendations. McClellan, and anyone else from the FDA, should be sent packing in disgrace, not considered for a promotion.  

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? – Protecting children from arbitrary labeling and drugging while maintaining the right of parental consent and the protection of parents from coercion to drug their children will require action on three levels – federal, state, and family.

  • In Washington DC, EdWatch will work with other groups to educate Congress and other groups about the dangers of mental health screening. EdAction will work to pass Dr. Paul’s “Let Parents Raise their Kids Act” which requires parental consent for these screening programs. EdWatch will also work to educate Congress and other groups on the limitations of the Child Medication Safety Act amendment passed in IDEA. EdAction will, at the same time, work to expand the stand-alone bill. This stand-alone bill contains the same language as the IDEA amendment to prevent coercion of parents to drug their children with medications on the controlled substances list.  The stand-alone bill passed the US House 425-1, but was stalled in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy.  The goals for this legislation in the new Congress are to protect all children in school, not just those in special education. It would also protect their parents from coercion by schools to take any psychiatric medication, not just those covered by the Controlled Substances Act. Finally, we will work to decrease or eliminate funding for the other mental health screening and labeling programs in federal law. These screening programs are based on vague and dubious diagnoses and criteria, they do not prevent suicide, and they can be based on the student’s worldview.
  • In the states, educating state legislators about the mental health screening programs will be very important. States must oppose changes in their laws that would accept the federal New Freedom Commission grants that Illinois accepted. States would also be wise to consider a law similar to New Jersey’s for personal student surveys. The New Jersey law strengthens the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) that applies to mental health screening. Finally, strengthening the state special education laws would be very helpful, so that parental refusal of a special education evaluation that includes mental health screening, for instance, cannot be overridden by the schools.
  • States may already have some protections for parental consent in mental health screening in schools, but it is unclear how these protections will apply to screening programs funded by HHS grants. IDEA requires parental consent before any evaluation or re-evaluation, including those done for mental health in special education. According to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), active parental consent is required and “no student shall be required, as part of any applicable program, to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning…mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family.” PPRA applies to surveys done under Department of Education funds.  What is not clear is whether PPRA will also apply to the screening New Freedom Commission grants under the Department of Health and Human Services.  That is why we strongly supported and continue to support Congressman Paul’s attempts to protect parental consent in the appropriations process as well as in stand-alone legislation, The Let Parents Raise their Kids Act.  While this is being sorted out, we recommend that parents use this letter drafted by the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights or this one from the National Education Consortium to put your child’s school on notice that you will not accept any mental health screening.

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Copyright 2004 Karen R. Effrem, M.D.. (Biography) Posted with permission.

Permission to distribute, but not sell, with proper reference to author and http://www.edwatch.org.

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