An Rx for Abuse Among Young D.C. Offenders

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the streets it's called Susie Q, Squirrel or Quell -- a new drug of choice for those on the streets or behind bars. They say it helps them fall asleep. Inmates fake a mental illness to get it. They'll steal it if they can; trade for it, too.

The correct name is Seroquel. A sleep aid it isn't.

Seroquel is a powerful anti-psychotic drug prescribed for people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Because of its potential for abuse, clinicians at many drug treatment programs and prisons have begun to curb Seroquel prescriptions.

This account comes courtesy of a July 13 Boston Globe story by Patricia Wen, "Psychiatric Drug Sought on Streets." The rest of today's column about Seroquel comes courtesy of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

I first heard about Seroquel's use in April when a worried DYRS employee told me that the drug had been stolen from a nurse's cart at the (now-defunct) Oak Hill Youth Center in Laurel for D.C. delinquents.

Seroquel, the source said, was being prescribed as a sleep aid, and young inmates have been stealing and selling it for snacks or trading it for favors.

In response to my inquiry about the theft, DYRS information officer Reginald Sanders wrote in an April 29 e-mail (department officials won't answer my questions in person or by phone): "The staff member in question has been disciplined; the unit was searched for any contraband and the missing medication was found. The drug . . . was Seroquel."

Wrote Sanders, "As a general matter we do not prescribe sleep medications."

End of story? Not when that city agency is involved.

In separate interviews over the past several days, three DYRS sources, who sought anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs, said it was common knowledge that all a youth has to say is "I can't sleep " and ask for Seroquel, and the psychiatrist writes the prescription. Because of recent complaints, the psychiatrist now writes Seroquel prescriptions only for "mood disorders." Told that youth are selling Seroquel, the same psychiatrist is reported to have said that "everyone is entitled to be an entrepreneur."

The psychiatrist is on contract to DYRS. His record is not unblemished.

New York State Health Department official Claire T. Pospisil confirmed this week that the doctor's "license limitation is permanent, and therefore in effect." She was referring to a limitation New York placed on his license prohibiting him "from engaging in the independent, unsupervised practice of medicine" and restricting his practice "to employment in an institution."

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