A judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop giving detained migrant children mind-altering drugs. Here’s what they do.

A child migrant released from Customs and Border Protection in June in McAllen, Texas.

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A child migrant released from Customs and Border Protection in June in McAllen, Texas.
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  • On Monday, a federal judge found US government officials in violation of state child welfare laws for putting detained migrant children on mind-altering drugs without their guardians’ consent.
  • In court filings, children claimed they were either forcibly injected with drugs or made to take pills that staff members told them were vitamins.
  • Most of the medications the kids took are used to treat mood disorders like depression and anxiety, but almost all of the drugs can also cause symptoms of those disorders.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that US government officials have been violating state child welfare laws by putting detained migrant children on mind-altering drugs without their guardians’ consent, the Washington Post reported.

The practice of giving psychotropic, or mind-altering, medications to migrant children was first revealed in an investigation by journalist Aura Bogado from the Center for Investigative Reporting. In her expose, Bogado reported that psychiatrist Javier Ruíz-Nazario had been prescribing the drugs to children detained at the Shiloh Treatment Center, a federally funded residential treatment center in Texas.

In numerous court filings, children claimed they were either forcibly injected with drugs or made to take pills that staff members told them were vitamins. The children claimed they felt dizzy, weak, nauseous, and even depressed as a result of the medication.

Bogado’s investigation also showed that Ruíz-Nazario lacked board certification to treat children or adolescents and had been practicing at the facility without that certification for nearly a decade.

The drugs he prescribed included Clonazepam, Divalproex, Duloxetine, Guanfacine, Lurasidone, Ziprasidone, Olanzapine, and Sertraline, among others, according to court documents. As controlled substances, all of these medications require a doctor’s prescription and can have severe side effects.

Drugs for mood disorders can cause symptoms of mood disorders

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Most of the medications that were given to migrant children, according to the filings, are commonly used to treat mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. But almost all of the drugs can also cause symptoms of those disorders – especially when given to people who may not have the disorder in the first place.

At least seven of the drugs – including Clonazepam (sold under brand name Klonipin) and Sertraline (Zoloft) – can cause anxiety, paranoid or suicidal thoughts, and other mood changes, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Most of them can also impair memory, coordination, and judgment.

Another drug in the court documents, Guanfacine (sold under brand name Intuniv ER) is used to treat ADHD but may cause dizziness and confusion.

Children being fed pills ‘every morning and every night’

In court testimonies, some of the children at Shiloh said they were given pills or shots “every morning and every night.”

During a hearing in front of US District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles on Monday, staff members from Shiloh admitted to signing off on these medications without consent from the children’s parents, relatives, or legal guardians.

In response, Judge Gee ruled that government officials needed to obtain consent or a court order before giving any mind-altering medications to migrant children, except in cases of dire emergencies, the Post reported. In addition, Gee ordered that all children at Shiloh be moved unless they posed a “risk of harm” to themselves or others.

In addition to their typical side effects in adult users, the drugs given to children at Shiloh can have dangerous effects on children.

One of the drugs, Olanzapine (Zypreza), is designed for schizophrenia but “may increase mental or emotional problems,” according to the US National Library of Medicine. It may also “lead to thoughts of suicide and violence” when used in children, teens, and young adults.

Beyond these concerns, the medications may also interact with one another or with other medications to produce harmful results. The US National Library of Medicine cautions against taking Duloxetine (Cymbalta) with common over-the-counter medications like aspirin, for example, since it may effect how the drug works. Combining any of the drugs on the court documents with other substances that slow breathing, like alcohol or allergy medications, can be deadly.