Gov. Doug Ducey’s office has ordered state health officials to produce a long-awaited study on prescription drug rates for children in the state’s foster care system compared with those not in the foster care system.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — known as AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid agency — must produce the report by the end of May, said Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman.
The governor’s office request came last week, after state Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, asked the governor’s office to follow up on her requests for an updated report, which she has sought for several years.
The report will replicate a 2011 study based on 2008 data that found that Arizona’s foster children were prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs 4.4 times more often than non-foster children enrolled in Medicaid. Psychotropics include antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety drugs, mood stabilizers and ADHD drugs.
The updated study will be completed before the May deadline, Monica Coury, AHCCCS spokeswoman, said on Monday.
The Star reported last week that AHCCCS and other state health care agencies have not released an updated report comparing the prescription rates despite repeated promises to do so. A report AHCCCS did release in October only looked at the rate foster children received psychotropic medications.
The April 10 article prompted Lesko to put in a request with the Governor’s Office to press for the agency to produce the report, she said.
Since 2008, the state’s foster care population has exploded by 92 percent, leading to concern that an overwhelmed system could result in inappropriate prescribing habits.
AHCCCS has implemented several oversight measures in recent years to monitor for medication rates in the state’s foster care population.
Since 2013, Lesko has asked for an updated report comparing the psychotropic medication rates of foster and non-foster kids. Despite promises from AHCCCS and other state health agencies to do so, the report never materialized, she said.
Last year, Lesko said she was so frustrated by the agency’s inaction that she introduced legislation that would have required AHCCCS to produce a report on the topic every other year. A House committee voted it down.
“Certainly it’s of concern if we’re overprescribing to foster children, because they are the responsibility of the state,” Lesko said.
The agency told the Star last month that it would release an updated report by the end of April. Two years ago, the chief medical officer of the Arizona Division of Behavioral Health Services told the Star it would produce such a report within six months.
AHCCCS has collected all the data necessary and is in the initial stages of drafting the report, said Christina Corieri, health and human services adviser for Ducey.
“We review all reports that come out of our agencies and we’ll review that one like we would any other report,” Corieri said.
Lesko said she will review the report to see if any action needs to be taken based on the results. But she said it’s too late this session to get any legislation passed on the issue.