Thousands of children in foster care are taking medications they might not need.

Thousands of children in foster care are taking medications they might not need.

A new U.S. Department of Health report highlights the health concerns related to foster children being prescribed psychiatric drugs with no follow-up care and also shows the financial implications.

According to the report, New York has spent more than $9.6 million to medicate children in foster care. All states combined have spent more than $365 million.

Since children are given psychiatric drugs with no follow-up, this means doctors don't have a chance to see if the medication is working or having adverse effects.

In New York state, there are more than 54,000 children in foster care. More than 16 percent of those children have been given medicine for ADHD, depression, or mental illness.

A 2010 study from the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute found that estimated rates of psychiatric drug use among youth in foster care are between 13 and 52 percent compared to youth not in the system at 4 percent.

Dr. Scott Anderson, a clinical psychologist for children at Rochester Regional Health, said these medicines are often useful for children who need them, but they should always be used with some sort of therapy and most of the time, the foster kids aren't getting it.

"Another challenge related to that is that these are children who are understandably going through a lot of turmoil," Dr. Anderson said. "So this makes it really difficult [for foster parents] to tell if new behavior problems are a sign of side effects, a sign that of worsening mental health problems or a sign that the kid is really stressed out frustrated or upset."

On the flip side, this report found another problem. While some children in foster care are overprescribed, others who actually need medication aren't getting it at all.

The inspector general recommends the Health Department's Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency that oversees foster care, to develop a strategy that helps states meet their existing requirements for prescribing psychiatric medication.

In a formal response to the report, the Administration for Children and Families said it may need additional legal authority. The agency also said it is committed to making sure foster children get psychiatric medications only when medically appropriate.