Actresses Alley, Preston push state bill to curb psychotropic drug use

Florida Sun Sentinel/April 19, 2005
By Brendan Farrington

Tallahassee -- Actresses Kirstie Alley and Kelly Preston pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to prohibit schools from denying services to students who won't take mood-altering drugs to treat mental disorders.

Alley sobbed as she told members of the House Education Council the stories of children who committed suicide or died after taking psychotropic drugs.

"Here's an example of parents who didn't know what could happen who just blindly went along with referrals and information,'' Alley said before holding up blown up, color photos of children she said died after being prescribed medicines such as Zoloft and Ritalin. "None of these children were psychotic before they took these drugs - none of these children were suicidal before they took these drugs.''

Both actresses are members of the Church of Scientology and said after the meeting said they were opposed to any child taking psychotropic medication.

Children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be eligible for special education programs for students with disabilities, including curriculum adjustments, alternative classrooms and increased parent and teacher involvement. The actresses were supporting a bill that would prohibit schools receiving state money to deny those services if those students don't take prescribed drugs to treat the condition.

Alley's pleas, though, came after the committee stripped language from the bill that would have required schools to tell parents that there is no medical test to diagnose a mental disorder and that they can refuse a psychological screening for their children.

The committee also removed part of the bill that would have required schools to inform parents that physical conditions may be the cause of mental and behavioral problems, that they should consult with a medical doctor about such problems and that a diagnosed mental disorder will stay on a student's permanent record.

Committee Chairman Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the language was written in such a way that schools may feel they can't refer students for psychological evaluation. He agreed that the medications are overprescribed, but said that they help children when prescribed properly.

"For certain patients, it's absolute magic the order it brings to their life,'' he said.

The bill's sponsor, Gus Barreiro, criticized him, saying he was interfering because his son is a psychiatrist.

"I would never vote on a bill that affects my family member,'' said Barreiro, R-Miami. "Stripping out complete disclosure from the parents and complete choice for the parent is wrong.''

Earlier Preston, who is married to actor John Travolta, also asked lawmakers to keep the disclosure language.

"I cannot comprehend how anyone would oppose a bill that ensures parents are given all the information needed to make an informed decision for their child,'' she said.

Once the language was taken out, the bill passed unanimously.

The Church of Scientology supports the bill and has backed similar measure in other states.

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

She added that she was proud that it's an issue taken up by Scientologists.

"You would be hard pressed, of these 8 million children on these drugs, to ever find one that's the child of a scientologists. Because we have real information, alternative information about what can you do,'' Alley said.

Preston added, "It's not a religious issue. It's a bipartisan issue. It has nothing to do with your religion, your race, your sex - nothing. It is an issue about parents and parents rights.''

They also testified before the Senate Education Committee, which also stripped the disclosure language before passing the Senate version of the bill.

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