'TeenScreening' for High School Suicides Overwhelmingly Rejected by Florida School Board

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Experts fear TeenScreen program is just another way to boost sales of anti-depressant drugs. "It's just a way to put more people on prescription drugs," says Marcia Angell, a medical ethics lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "The Truth About Drug Companies."

In a move to protect its students from issues of privacy and wrongful labeling, Pinellas County's School Board voted 6-1 to bar pilot projects like TeenScreen's suicide questionnaire program.

The TeenScreen pilot program flies in the face of policy designed to protect the privacy of school children. Like many other counties, Pinellas has had a county-wide policy which prevents outside agencies from gaining information like students’ names and addresses. This has kept outside mental health groups from being able to implement programs they claim will identify information on students.

In addition to privacy concerns, many experts question the efficacy of programs like TeenScreen. For example, TeenScreen was implemented in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1997. According to a 2003 Tulsa World newspaper article, Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, stated, "To the best of my knowledge, this is the highest number of youth suicides we've ever had during the school year - a number we find very frightening."

"What happens to all the normal and healthy children that are being wrongly labeled?", says Ken Kramer, an investigator for Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a non-profit, mental health watchdog agency established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology. "It's tough to imagine the ramifications for a child going to school and then being told that he is suicidal or depressed, when he is not."

Kramer organized a website to distribute information about TeenScreen and county school policies (http://www.psychsearch.net/teenscreen.html).

The controversy of the program goes well beyond privacy and wrongful labeling. Opponents also contend that the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry has most to gain from TeenScreen, not the children. While a link has not been proven, even Columbia University, where TeenScreen was developed, seems to shy away from the point. Columbia recently revised a press release on their website to remove a statement concerning their donation of $19 million to TeenScreen. David Shaffer, the originator of the program, is a long-time apologist and paid consultant to more than one pharmaceutical company, including two makers of antidepressant drugs.

"It's just a way to put more people on prescription drugs," said Marcia Angell, a medical ethics lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "The Truth About Drug Companies." She said such programs would boost the sale of antidepressants even after the FDA in September ordered a "black box" label warning that the pills might even be the cause of such suicidal thoughts or actions in minors.

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Hans Eisenman

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