Exposing serious societal problems is always better than turning your head. Always. That's why staff writer Karen de Sá has spent nearly a year on research to bring to light the excessive use of powerful psychiatric drugs to control the behavior of California's foster children.

But shining light on a problem doesn't automatically change anything. That takes a public outcry and ideally a champion with the power to bring about change.

So thank you, Sen. Ted Lieu.

The Redondo Beach Democrat heads the committee that oversees the state medical board. At his request, the board is investigating whether some doctors have been "operating outside the reasonable standard of care" in prescribing meds -- not necessarily to treat illnesses, but to change behavior. Many of the kids are younger than 10.

Sen. Ted Lieu
Sen. Ted Lieu (Associated Press)

The investigation is a start. It may even influence some doctors to curb excesses on their own. We hope it also leads to rules for the use of psychiatric and powerful psychotropic drugs on foster children.

State social service and mental health officials are working toward a goal of holistic treatment, including nondrug therapy. Still, the pattern of drug use now is inexcusable. It may calm kids -- some say they basically slept through their teens -- but it also can mean lifetime handicaps, from obesity to muscle tremors.

The medical board has an advantage over the public. It can get information on who's prescribing what. For months, this newspaper tried to pry the information from the Department of Health Care Services, but the state has resisted. The board can find out which doctors are the primary purveyors of psychotropic drugs, for example, or are prescribing drugs in excessive amounts or inappropriate combinations.


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Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a longtime child advocate, is termed out this year, but he hopes this matter will be part of the budget debate in the spring. We hope his successor as Senate leader, Kevin De Leon, will agree, and that other lawmakers step up; Santa Clara County Sen. Jim Beall, for example, has been a champion for foster children. It will take courage to vote to invest in foster kids, the most vulnerable and voiceless of Californians, when politically powerful interests want the money for other purposes.

The public is reacting to de Sá's stories. Professionals in the field tell us we are only scratching the surface. We won't stop. But we can't change things without people in power making a stand.

So -- at the risk of repeating ourselves -- thanks, Ted Lieu, for being the first.