“What fresh hell is this?”
We are told that it was the custom of Dorothy Parker to say that when she heard her phone ring.
Those words crossed my mind when I considered the obstacles that Ben Hansen, our winner of this week’s Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week has encountered as he doggedly pursues some important data.
Ben Hansen lives in Traverse City, Michigan. He is engaged in a fascinating, long-term research project to track increases over time in the number of poor children and children living in foster care who are being put on antipsychotics, anti-depressants, and anti-hyperactivity medications.
The Michigan Department of Community Mental Health (MDCMH) oversees the Medicaid and foster care programs that pay for the medications these children–some not yet old enough to attend kindergarten–are receiving. So, it is from the MCDMH that our “Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week” Ben Hansen has sought data from for his study, with a series of open records requests under Michigan’s FOIA law.
Some of STOTW Ben Hansen’s key findings so far:
- In 2005, some 3,064 psychiatric drug prescriptions were issued to children, ages four and under.
- The number of very young Michigan children on anti-Parkinson drugs has quadrupled in the past two years.
Although the MDCMH has given Ben Hansen many of the documents he requested, they have refused to give him documents that tell him the names of the specific drugs being administered to these young children through Medicaid programs.
Hansen is especially interested in knowing whether Zyprexa, manufactured by Eli Lilly, is one of the drugs. Hansen is quoted in a March 23, 2007 article in the New York Times, In some states, maker oversees use of its drug, expressing his concerns about this. (The NYT article tells us that there are allegations that Eli Lilly exerts some degree of influence on state Medicaid programs to have its drugs preferentially prescribed.)
The MDCMH has refused to give Mr. Hansen any documents that name specific drugs, citing patient confidentiality, although Mr. Hansen does not want, nor has he requested, the names of any patients. He just wants the name of the drugs.
Mr. Hansen has accordingly filed complaints in Michigan courts to ask that he be given documents identifying which drugs are being administered, not just which classes of drugs are being administered.
Earlier this year, Judge Beverley Nettles-Nickerson of the Ingham County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the State’s motion to dismiss Hansen’s FOIA request.
Beverley Nettles-Nickerson also ordered Hansen to pay $3,500 for the state’s legal costs.
Shortly after Nettles-Nickerson issued that ruling, she encountered significant challenges to her integrity as a judge.
Mr. Hansen, we salute you and, like you, we wonder:
What’s the big deal, if all we’re asking for is a list of drug names? Why would the other side be so determined to keep this information hidden from the public?