This year, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, has sponsored a bill that would authorize the California Medical Board to collect confidential information about psychotropic medications prescribed to foster youth. The legislation, SB 1174, which is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, would allow the medical board to investigate possible cases where a physician is overprescribing or inappropriately prescribing psychotropic drugs.

McGuire said the California foster care system is overusing psychotropic medications, which may prove harmful over time to the children placed under system care.

The drugs are necessary for some youths who have experienced “incredible trauma,” he said, but are in many cases being used to control their behavior and substituted for the therapy they need.

“We’re talking about people’s lives,” McGuire said. “California has known for a decade that psychotropic medications and antipsychotics have been overprescribed and we haven’t done a damn thing about it.”

Medical researchers have shown that prolonged use of antipsychotics can cause lifelong harm, contributing to obesity, diabetes, brain damage, organ failure or even death, McGuire noted.

Most of the physicians who care for foster children are doing an appropriate job, he said. His bill is aimed at “a small percentage of prescribers” who are engaging in potential violations of state law, he said.

Anna Johnson, policy analyst for the National Center for Youth Law, which helped craft both McGuire’s legislation and last year’s bills, said SB 1174 helps bridge the gap between county welfare and mental health departments. Too often, she said, county welfare systems contract with mental health department psychiatrists to do little more than prescribe psychotropic drugs.

“That’s problematic because these medications are not supposed to be the first and only treatment that a child receives,” Johnson said.

Johnson said psychotropic drugs, when prescribed inappropriately, such as in the wrong dose, can often blunt a child’s development. Some of the drugs block dopamine receptors that would allow a child to feel joy or form attachments.

“Some of the more positive sensations are dulled by the drug, or they might be inhibited in some way,” she said. “Some studies show that kids become like zombies. … They’re not able to react in the moment or be themselves.”

She said some young people, when prescribed doses that are too high, will lose trust in their caregivers or providers because of the extreme negative side effects, which include heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, ticks and tremors, an increase in suicidal thoughts and even sudden death in some youth, especially when these medications are mixed with other recreational drugs like alcohol or marijuana.

McGuire’s bill would provide additional information that the state medical board says it needs to complete its review of prescribing patterns statewide and identify the physicians who may warrant additional investigation. It includes the diagnosis associated with the medication, dosage and weight of the youth, said Cassandra Hockenson, a medical board spokeswoman.

“Keep in mind, this is necessary for us to determine who potentially is prescribing inappropriately,” she said.

Anthony Northern was about 14 years old when a conflict with his brother landed him in Juvenile Hall.

He was removed from his home and sent to a local group home, where he was put on several medications, including Seroquel, which is often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Northern, now 21, said nearly every other youth in the home on medication for mental health issues was required to take Seroquel.