This post is the third in a series examining the potential for improper and harmful medication of children in order to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits. As stated by one mother applying for SSI on behalf of her ADHD-afflicted son, “If your child doesn’t have medication, the SSI office doesn’t think he has any problem,” adding that she knows many parents who exaggerate their child’s symptoms so they are prescribed medication in order to receive SSI checks.
The belief that children need to be medicated goes beyond parents, and many doctors and psychiatrists report feeling pressured to ‘upgrade’ a diagnosis or otherwise alter SSI paperwork. This often comes from a sense of compassion, says pediatric psychiatric nurse Judy Rolph. “Some psychiatrists do feel these people are entitled to benefits,” she said. “You know these people are poor.”
Social Security Administration officials deny that this is the case, stating that an SSI application is decided based on all extenuating factors. “Medication helps confirm a diagnosis,” said Art Spencer of the SSA, “but most of the decision is going to be based on the child’s function.” However, political science professor Jennifer Erkulwater says that medication is a widely accepted indicator of serious illness. “If the doctor says it’s serious, he’s giving a prescription,” she said.
In addition, state agencies contribute to the inclination toward medication for the purpose of receiving SSI. While SSI programs are fully funded by the federal government, welfare is partially paid for by the state. As states find themselves in increasingly dire economic situations, they have motivation to help parents with SSI paperwork or provide similar assistance.
Yet unnecessary medication has proven harmful and even fatal. In 2006, a couple received over $30,000 annually in SSI checks for their three children and themselves. When their four-year-old daughter grew ill in the night, her parents gave her a sedating ADHD medication to get her to sleep. She eventually died of a drug overdose, and her parents were recently convicted of causing her death.
While this is an extreme case, it is also a cautionary tale for parents who are contemplating extreme measures to obtain SSI payments, or what MIT professor David Autor believes has come to be “the new welfare”.
Source: The Boston Globe, “A legacy of unintended side effects“, Patricia Wen, 12 December 2010