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Mind-drug bill gains momentum
by Marc Caputo ("Miami Herald," April 20, 2005)

Tallahassee, USA - Inspired by the Church of Scientology, a bill that seeks to discourage the prescribing of mental health drugs to school kids won crucial votes Tuesday in the state Legislature, sparking testy exchanges between lawmakers while exposing the church's antipsychiatrist agenda.

Adding a theatrical flair: actresses/Scientology activists Kirstie Alley and Kelly Preston. Alley sobbed when she showed a House committee enlarged photographs of children she said had died from the effects of psychotropic drugs.

But the presentation wasn't enough to stop lawmakers from removing controversial language aimed at stopping teachers and school officials from referring kids to psychiatrists who would prescribe drugs.

In the end, the legislators feared that needy children without medication would fail out or commit suicide -- though they were sympathetic to the widely held belief that too many healthy children are being drugged. So they left intact language to prevent schools from requiring a student to be prescribed a drug before participating in school activities.

Broward and Miami-Dade school officials say the language isn't needed because they provide special classes for disturbed children.

DAUGHTER'S SCHOOL

Miami Beach Republican Rep. Gus Barreiro, sponsor of the House version of the bill, said he saw the need to restrict the prescribing of drugs to school kids at his daughter's school, Carver Middle School, when he witnessed an assembly line of children taking antihyperactivity medications. Shortly after that, Barreiro said, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights brought the proposal to him.

School children are sometimes prescribed medicine after consultations among their teachers, parents, counselors and psychiatrists, school officials say. The teacher can start such consultations, but can't prescribe the medicine.

The commission was founded in 1969 to push the Church of Scientology's self-help mental-health philosophy, which was first expounded in 1950 by church founder L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. The commission paid for a number of speakers to fly to Tallahassee on Tuesday from California and Maryland.

Alley, who told reporters that Scientology opposes psychiatric drugs, told the committee that there are other ways to treat kids.

''There's always another solution,'' she said. ``Vitamins, nutrition, allergy testing, chemical sensitivity . . . find what's really, really going on.''

Barreiro, who declined to say whether he is a Scientologist, said too many children are being prescribed medications that ''are as powerful as cocaine,'' and that parents need to know the risks. About 3 percent of all children are prescribed some type of medication, though the rate is higher for minorities, Barreiro and others said.

Barreiro said he opposes the use of psychotropic medications, used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

''There is no medical test. There is no blood test. There is no X-ray. There is no CAT scan,'' Barreiro said of a psychiatrist's diagnosis, which basically involves an observation-based manual for mental disorders. Barreiro's remarks elicited a chorus of dissent in the packed committee room when he implied that school psychologists need better training.

Barreiro engaged in a testy exchange with fellow Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala conservative whose son is a psychiatrist.

'The discrediting of [psychiatrists'] work is a very big concern of mine,'' Baxley said.

LANGUAGE REMOVED

He then stripped out the controversial language that said schools could refer kids to psychiatrists only if they gave parents ''full disclosure,'' including information that the psychological disorders can't be medically tested and might be the result of other physical maladies.

Barreiro fought the change, leading Baxley to suggest he was going back on his word to accept it.

Barreiro then said Baxley should recuse himself because he had a conflict of interest. Barreiro vowed to bring the issue up again when the bill comes to the full House in the coming weeks.

Later, in the Senate, lawmakers watered down the language as the co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Victor Crist of Tampa, watched. Also removed: a measure that could have required the listing of a child's disorder to become part of a child's permanent record.

Gov. Jeb Bush was preparing to veto the bill before the changes.