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US Government Pushes Mental Health Tests with 84% False Positive Results

A new mental health surveillance test with close to 90% false positive results is currently recommended for use among all American children by the US government. Backed and promoted by pharmaceutical companies and questioned by liberals and conservatives alike, the tests come under fire in two articles from opposite ends of the political spectrum that both reach the same conclusion: tests are a drug industry dream come true and a public health nightmare. See a mini-documentary on the Teen Screen Controversy at YouTube.

Reprinted from The Torch (Texas Eagle Forum) February 2007

Mental Health Screening for Texas Kids
By Cathie Adams

“Have you often felt very nervous when you’ve had things to do in front of people?”

“Has there been a time when you had less energy than you usually do?”

“Has there been a time when you felt you couldn’t do anything well or that you weren’t as good-looking or as smart as other people?”

If you would answer, “Yes” to any of these questions, then you are either crazy or at least have mental health problems according to a Columbia University based program called TeenScreen. TeenScreen labels 15% of the students screened as having mental health problems, a diagnosis that leads to the use of powerful and sometimes hazardous medications.

A January 2006 Brandeis University study found that psychotropic drug prescriptions for teens surged 250% from 1994-2001. One in every ten doctor office visits by teenage boys led to a prescription for a psychotropic drug. A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, a malady that was first defined in 1980, has grown to epidemic proportions. The subjective diagnosis of ADHD was given to about one-third of the office visits during the study period. Last year 15 million antidepressant prescriptions were written for teens and children, but such medications may in part account for the doubling of suicide rates over the past 20 years for children 5-14 year old.

Financial incentives such as Medicaid funding to the family of a child diagnosed with ADHD as much as $450 a month and funding to schools $400 a year for each ADHD child probably increases the number of diagnoses. It is insidious that this government-driven scheme puts children at risk while it profits pharmaceutical companies at taxpayer expense.

Even though pharmaceutical companies will profit from the Medicare Drug Package that was originally estimated to cost taxpayers $400 billion, but has now grown to $1.2 trillion, they want more. The industry’s aim is to not only collaborate with the schools, but to also coax government into requiring mental health screening for every man, woman and child. Following is the timeline of Texas’ involvement in this pharmaceutical ruse:

- In 1995, then Governor Bush initiated collaboration between the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR), pharmaceutical companies and the University of Texas Southwestern, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and several drug companies.

- In 1997, Texas initiated a drug protocol called the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, TMAP, for state mental health programs. The health care provider drug protocol calls for prescribing new and very expensive psychotropic drugs, as well as more prescriptions, which caused Texas Medicaid spending on five atypical antipsychotic drugs to skyrocket from $28 million to $177 million in 2004.

- In 1999, the Texas legislature codified TMAP for state-owned and state-funded mental health clinics. Texas officials pressured physicians to follow TMAP or to justify a different course with a note in a patient’s file, making it a rare exception.

- In 2002, President Bush issued Executive Order 13263 creating the New Freedom Commission, which calls for universal mental health screening, a call that was highly unlikely to pass Congress. TMAP became the federal model and at least 17 other states have adopted the Texas model.

- In 2005, Texas Eagle Forum savvy volunteer MerryLynn Gerstenschlager, found an amendment on a state mental health reform bill that would have cost billons of dollars to integrate mental and physical health in Texas to screen for “co-occurring physical, mental and substance-abuse disorders” and to develop integrated treatment strategies” for both adults and children. Gun Owners of America joined TEF’s opposition stating, “The amendment calls for a mental health screening system that could potentially cover every child in the state—with no guarantee that it won’t be done over the objections of the parents.”

- In 2005 Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill after the amendment was removed.

- In 2006, Attorney General Greg Abbott investigated whether drug companies improperly influenced Dr. Steven Shon, medical director of behavioral health at the Department of State Health Services. Dr. Shon, who made more than 80 trips outside Texas to promote the drug Risperdal and TMAP at drug company expense, was fired when Abbott joined a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and several subsidiaries claiming misrepresentation of the safety and effectiveness of the drug. A settlement could cost the drug company more than $1 billion.

In 2007, TEF will remain vigilant in our opposition to mandatory mental health screening. At the federal level, we will watch closely the No Child Left Behind Act that will be up for renewal as well as plans to expand psychological screening programs, beginning in infancy.

From The Rutherford Institute, Dedicated to the Defense of Civil Liberties and Human Rights

America’s Schoolchildren Are Treated Like Lab Rats
By John W. Whitehead

America’s schools are beginning to resemble laboratories, and our children are the lab rats. In almost every state across the nation, schoolchildren are being subjected to behavioral exams and mental health tests, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

One such program is the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Currently used in at least 45 states, the YRBSS test takes approximately 35 minutes to complete, with questions on everything from how much television the student watches to thoughts on suicide, sexual activity and drug use. For example, the 2007 middle school questionnaire includes such questions as: “Have you ever seriously thought about killing yourself?” “Have you ever made a plan about killing yourself?” “Have you ever used marijuana?” “Have you ever used any form of cocaine, including powder, crack, or freebase?” “Have you ever had sexual intercourse?” “The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?” “Have you ever sniffed glue, or breathed the contents of spray cans, or inhaled any paints or sprays to get high?” “Have you ever taken any diet pills, powders, or liquids without a doctor’s advice to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight?” “Have you ever vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight?”

First developed in 1990 by the Center for Disease Control, the test’s stated purpose is to track health risk behaviors among America’s youth. In this way, YRBSS is similar to other mental health screening programs that have been creeping into the classroom since President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommended mental health screenings for all school-aged children, including those in preschool. But if the goal is to identify and prevent risky behavior among young people, why are many parents up in arms over these tests?

There are several problems. First, there are concerns about how the tests are being administered. Health screening tests like YRBSS are often given to students without parental knowledge or consent. While the CDC insists that local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administering the test, many school systems use so-called passive parental notification procedures, which assume that parents have given their consent unless they notify the school of an objection. But passive notification is just a sneaky way to avoid obtaining written parental consent. And in the end, whether due to the child losing the notification form or forgetting to give it to the parents, parents are often left in the dark, unaware that their children are being subjected to such invasive tests.

Second, critics of these risk assessment tests insist that they’re aimed at pushing antidepressant drugs on teenagers. For example, TeenScreen, which is similar to YRBSS in its intent to identify suicidal tendencies and social disorders, has been labeled by the Alliance for Human Research Protection as a “duo-drug promotion scam” that declares “otherwise normal children to be mentally ill.” Another vocal critic of the tests, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, points out that drug companies are gearing up for bigger sales of antidepressants at the same time that the FDA is issuing warnings about antidepressants increasing the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children who take them.

Finally, legitimate questions remain about whether such tests really help students achieve healthier lifestyles. TeenScreen, for example, has an 84% false-positive rate. This means that 84% of teens diagnosed as having some sort of mental health or social disorder are, in fact, perfectly normal teenagers. Furthermore, although the CDC insists that there is no danger in asking students highly suggestive questions about sex, drugs and suicide, as a parent, I’d prefer to decide the timing and content of such a sensitive discussion.

Helping America’s teens make positive, healthy and responsible lifestyle choices is a worthy goal, but it must start with parents within the home. If the schools are to be part of the process, they must ensure that parents are fully informed and involved at every step of the way. In turn, parents should demand that they be notified about mental health evaluations and that the evaluations not be given unless they have provided express written permission, which is required under federal law. Parents should also be provided an advance copy of the screening questionnaire in order to make an informed decision about whether they want their child to be screened.

It’s time for parents to stand up for their rights. After all, it is still the job of parents—not the schools—to parent. Our children are counting on us.