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Mother Files Claim Over Drug That School Gave to Her Son, 7

August 06, 1987|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

A Glendale woman who claims that her son suffered serious side effects from a drug he allegedly was forced to take for hyperactivity is seeking damages from the Glendale Unified School District and Los Angeles County.

In a claim sent to school officials Monday, Adelia A. Lorenzo charged that the principal at Balboa Elementary School threatened to suspend her 7-year-old son, Michael, if he did not take the controversial drug Ritalin as prescribed by a county psychiatrist.

Glendale school officials this week verified that they received the complaint, which asks for $5 million, but declined comment. "The staff is in the process of reviewing the charges, and we have nothing further to say at this time," district spokesman Vic Pallos said.

County Doctor Prescribed Drug

The county also is named in the complaint, Lorenzo alleged, because a county psychiatrist who prescribed the drug denied it would have any side effects. The complaint charges that Dr. Alvin S. Yusin, head of the Child Development Center at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, deemed the child to be hyperactive based solely on information supplied by school officials.

Lorenzo's attorney, Kendrick L. Moxon, said Yusin also increased the prescribed dosage of the drug at the request of school officials.

Yusin is on vacation and was not available for comment.

Moxon said Michael lost weight, suffered hallucinations and experienced persistent pain, headaches, rashes and body ticks. He said the child complained to his mother and she then asked school officials in April to stop administering the drug.

However, within a week, Moxon said, Balboa's principal, Diane Hawley, again threatened to expel the child unless he received the drug. Lorenzo again consented under duress, according to Moxon.

Claims Son Was in 'Stupor'

Moxon said Lorenzo was not fully aware of the effects of Ritalin because it wears off in five hours--before the child, a second-grader, returned home from school. He said the drug was administered daily by school officials from February until mid-May, when Michael's mother visited the classroom and found the youngster in a "dazed stupor."

Moxon said Lorenzo then removed the child from school. She still is not certain where she will send him in the fall, Moxon said.

The complaint charges, among other things, that school officials practiced medicine without a license and inflicted corporal punishment on a pupil. Moxon said the claim is preliminary to filing a court suit.

Moxon said that the use of Ritalin to control pupils has become "almost epidemic." Moxon said parents in other school districts nationally also have claimed that they were coerced into making their children take the drug.

Twice as much Ritalin is being produced this year as two years ago, according to the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Side Effects Studied

Ritalin, an addictive amphetamine-type drug, has been used for about 30 years to help hyperactive children focus their attention. But recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of the drug and warn of its side effects, including brain damage and severe depression.

"Teachers must wake up to what's happening to thousands of children like Michael Lorenzo," Moxon said.

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