Exposing serious societal problems is always better than turning your head. Always. That's why staff writer Karen de Sá has spent nearly a year on research to bring to light the excessive use of powerful psychiatric drugs to control the behavior of foster children in the custody of the state of California.

But shining light on a problem doesn't automatically change anything. That takes a public outcry and ideally a champion with the power to bring about change.

So thank you, Sen. Ted Lieu.

In response to a request from Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, the state medical board is investigating whether some doctors have been "operating outside the reasonable standard of care" in prescribing meds to children -- not necessarily to treat illnesses for which the drugs were approved but to change the kids' behavior. Many of the children are under 10 years old.

The investigation is a start. It may influence doctors to curb the excesses. We hope it will lead to rules to govern the use of psychiatric and powerful psychotropic drugs on children who have no adult providing consistent parenting oversight.

State officials in the social service and mental health fields know holistic treatment is the goal, including therapy, and they're working toward it. But the pattern of drug use now is not excusable. It may calm kids -- some survivors say they basically slept through their teens -- but it also can leave them with lifetime handicaps, from obesity to muscle tremors.


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The medical board has an advantage over the people of California. It can get information on who's prescribing what. This newspaper has tried for months to pry the information from state social services, of course with patient identities redacted, but the state has resisted. The medical board can find out which doctors are the primary purveyors of psychotropic drugs, for example, or are prescribing drugs in excessive amounts and inappropriate combinations.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a longtime child advocate, is termed out this year but hopes this prescribing pattern will be part of the budget debate in the spring. We hope his successor as Senate leader, Kevin De Leon, will agree. It will take courage to vote to invest in foster kids, the most vulnerable and voiceless of Californians, when politically powerful interests want the money.

The public is reacting. We have received many letters applauding the report, none defending the status quo. Professionals in the field tell us we are only scratching the surface.

We won't stop. But we can't change things without people in power making a stand.

So -- at the risk of repeating ourselves -- thank you, Ted Lieu, for being the first.