As thousands of children remain in federal custody after being taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, federal court filings allege that children in at least one detention center in Texas have been forcibly given medications that have made them dizzy, lethargic, and even incapacitated.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist here; it looks like they're trying to control agitation and aggressive behavior with antipsychotic drugs," forensic psychologist Mark J. Mills, who was an expert witness for a 2008 lawsuit over the administration of similar drugs to people who were being deported, told Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting. "The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That's not what antipsychotics should be used for. That's like the old Soviet Union used to do."
According to a lawsuit filed in April regarding the Flores agreement—the 1997 decree that limited the federal detention of children to 20 days—children at Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas have been given powerful psychotropic drugs and forced injections without the consent of their parents.
After being taken to the facility, children who had arrived in the U.S. without parents or guardians were given drugs including Clonazepam, Divalproex, Benztropine, and Duloxetine—used to treat seizures, Parkinson's disease, and depression.
One child reported being given nine pills in the morning and seven in the evening, with no knowledge of what the pills were. Children were frequently told by staff that they were being given vitamins.
Another child, identified in court documents as Rosa, described being given forced injections: "One or two staff hold my arms, and the nurse gives me an injection."
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) "routinely administers children psychotropic drugs without lawful authorization," according to one memo. "When youth object to taking such medications, ORR compels them. ORR neither requires nor asks for a parent's consent before medicating a child, nor does it seek lawful authority to consent in parents' stead. Instead, ORR or facility staff sign 'consent' forms anointing themselves with 'authority' to administer psychotropic drugs to confined children."
Giving medication to children without parental consent is a clear violation of Texas state law, as well as "common decency," according to the attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of several children who were held at Shiloh Treatment Center.
According to Reveal, Shiloh is one of more than 70 companies that receive a total of $3.4 billion to supervise unaccompanied minors who cross the border—and over the past several weeks, children who are separated from their parents. Nearly half of those facilities, including Shiloh, have been accused of mistreating children in recent years, Reveal reports.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) called for Shiloh to be shut down in 2014, after the Houston Chronicle reported on "physical violence, unreasonable and excessive use of physical restraints, administering emergency medications without notice to governmental authorities, and several deaths of minor children while in custody" at the detention center.