January 10, 2011

Stabile Center Reports on the Overmedication of Foster Children

Orphan earmarks, drugged cops and overmedicated children in foster care: These were the subjects of investigations published by students of Columbia University’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism this past month.

USA Today led its Jan. 5 edition with a Stabile Center investigation into how congressional earmarks have cost states $7.5 billion dollars in lost highway funding over the last 20 years.

Stabile Center student Cezary Podkul began researching  “orphan earmarks” last summer and found over 7,000 congressionally directed highway projects in which the money, or a good portion of it, remains unspent for various reasons. At least 3,600 of these haven’t been spent at all because of typographical or other errors.  But states cannot reallocate these unspent earmarks, which are counted against their share of federal highway funds.

Podkul pieced together the information  by doing freedom of information requests in 50 states in order to build a nationwide database on orphan earmarks. He spent four months researching the project on his own and two months working on the story with USA Today.

The story has also been featured in the  NBC Nightly News.

On Dec. 12, the New Jersey Star-Ledger  published the first of a three-part series, “Strong at any Cost,” documenting the extent of steroid and HGH abuse within law-enforcement agencies in New Jersey. Stabile Center student Amy Brittain and Star-Ledger reporter Mark Mueller worked seven months on the series. Brittain began working on the project in the fall of 2009 while enrolled at Columbia University's Journalism School.

The reporters interviewed more than 200 people including doctors, patients, , police chiefs, local and state officials and nationally recognized experts on steroids and other hormones.

They identified 248 officers and firefighters illegally using steroids by comparing the records of the New Jersey pharmacy that supplied them with public databases containing the names of every law enforcement officer and firefighter in the state.

On Jan. 7, the PBS program “Need to Know,” aired an investigation on the abuses in the foster care system in Texas that led to children being overprescribed with antipsychotic drugs. The report was produced by Stabile students Mar Cabra and Sarah Fitzgerald and Need to Know correspondent Shoshana Guy. The journalists traveled to Texas and followed a 12-year-old who had been prescribed 26 psychotropic drugs by nine doctors in the nine years he was in the Texas foster care system.

The project received support from the Stabile Center, The Nation Investigative Fund and the New York Chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences