Immigrant children detained in Texas forced to take antipsychotic medications

A June 1 protest in New York against the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the border.
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

A series of heartbreaking research stories published on Wednesday by Reveal and The Texas Tribune highlight the disturbing conditions that many undocumented children have allegedly been forced to endure in private shelters to house them while they wait for the procedures to determine if they can remain in the country. One of the most gruesome details includes accusations that children at the Shiloh Treatment Center near Houston, Texas, were routinely given unnecessary antipsychotics to keep them quiet and obedient.

According to Reveal:

President Donald Trump's policy of zero tolerance is creating an army of zombies of children who are forcibly injected with drugs that make them dizzy, apathetic, obese and even disabled, according to legal documents that show that immigrant children in US custody are subjected to powerful psychiatric drugs.

The submissions are part of a lawsuit filed in April against the federal government for alleged ill-treatment of children sent to Shiloh and other detention centers. The chronology of the incidents seems to predate the recent trend of children being forcibly separated from their parents at the border and mainly minors considered as unaccompanied minors who expected to join a parent or guardian in the US. UU

The lawsuit includes devastating affidavits from children and parents about their alleged treatment in Shiloh, along with documentation establishing the staggering number of drugs allegedly told to be taken by some children (up to 18 pills in a day, according to with an account). The lawsuit describes children who received these medications supposedly to help treat their depression or other mental health problems. But in many cases, these children have alleged, told them they had to take drugs to see their parents again, while others were told that the drugs were actually vitamins.

Most of the drugs mentioned in the lawsuit, such as olanzapine and quetiapine, are antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. But there are also medications like prazosin, which is used to treat high blood pressure, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and benzodiazepines such as clonazepam, a tranquilizer used to treat seizures and panic attacks.

All antipsychotics work primarily by blocking the effects of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that normally helps neurons communicate with each other in the brain, but has also been implicated as a key factor in psychosis and schizophrenia. But although these medications are moderately effective in adults, their increasing use of antipsychotics in children is a controversial issue. There are few safety data for many of these medications commonly prescribed for children, especially those diagnosed with behavioral or aggression problems instead of a psychiatric illness. And there is some evidence that many of the known side effects of these medications (weight gain, tremors, and an increased risk of diabetes, to name a few) are more likely to occur in children whose brains are still developing.

Benzodiazepines, meanwhile, depresses a person's brain activity, which makes them a valuable tool to help control seizures and, sometimes, anxiety. But they can also cause hallucinations and memory loss and increase the risk of suicide and depression. They can also become habit-forming, leading to withdrawal symptoms if people are not properly relieved of medication. And the reducing effects of prazosin's blood pressure can cause dizziness, weakness and fainting.

"It is not necessary to administer this type of medication unless someone has an eyeball or something," said forensic psychiatrist Mark. J. Mills, who reviewed the medical records of these children available through the court files, told Reveal. "The facility should not use these medications to control behavior, which is why antipsychotics should not be used, which is what the former Soviet Union used to do."

Mills refers to the fact that dissidents in the Soviet Union were routinely subjected to unnecessary psychiatric treatment.

Gizmodo contacted the Shiloh Treatment Center for comments and will update this publication when we hear again

The incidents documented in the presentations have occurred during the Trump administration, but the problem extends far beyond Trump. As Reveal also reported on Wednesday, private detention centers and shelters have been repeatedly cited for negligent behavior, as well as badual abuse and physical violence, towards children detained in recent years. But despite these complaints, the Reveal investigation found that facilities accused of abuse or neglect have received more than $ 1.4 billion in federal funds from the Office of Refugee Resettlement since 2014.

[Reveal 1, 2]


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