A deadly combination of anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs, painkillers and alcohol were responsible for the death of a teen living in an Antioch foster home late last year, a county coroner has found.
A report released tby the Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner's office concludes that the 16-year-old died in his bed Dec. 19 after ingesting a slew of over-the-counter and prescription medications. It isn't clear where Steven obtained the drugs, because only one of the medications found in his system -- the antidepressant Zoloft -- was prescribed to him.
There were no signs that Steven "ingested the substances in an attempt to end his life," the coroner's report states.
The lanky, curly-haired skateboarder received no medical attention -- even though the day before he died, a social worker had difficulty waking him up and relatives later filmed him struggling to walk and even keep food in his mouth. Antioch Police have forwarded their investigation into the teen's death to county prosecutors, and Deputy District Attorney Bruce Flynn said he will soon review the case for possible child endangerment or related criminal charges.
"Nobody paid attention to this child," said Steven's grandmother, Karla Garvey of Pittsburg who had long cared for Steven until social workers removed him from her home in August after a sibling's explosive outburst. "I don't care if he drank a gallon of bleach, they ignored a child in physical distress and refused to give him medical attention."
Although the death of a foster child is extremely rare, an investigation by this newspaper, "Drugging Our Kids," into the excessive use of psychiatric drugs in foster care revealed the youth are often poorly monitored for health concerns and side effects from the medications.
The state agency that licenses foster parents has moved to permanently prohibit Steven's foster mother Dorothy Brown from caring for children in the system. Brown has appealed the case, which an administrative law judge will consider in June.
Joan Miller, interim director of the county's department of Children and Family Services division, said she could not comment on the specifics of the case. But she offered her sympathies. "It's our job to protect children and when we can't, we grieve for those children and we grieve for that family," Miller said. Responding to the ongoing investigations into whether Brown and Steven's social worker David Schwartz, failed to seek medical help, Miller added: "We share in those concerns."
Both Schwartz and Brown have left their posts with the nonprofit adoption and foster family agency, Families for Children, and efforts to reach them have been unsuccessful.
Steven had been prescribed psychiatric drugs while in foster care -- including Zoloft, Trazodone and Vistaril to treat anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, records show. He told friends and relatives in the months leading up to his death that he desperately wanted to return to his grandmother. Zoloft, an antidepressant, was found in Steven's bloodstream after he died, but not in a fatal dose by itself.
Steven abused prescription drugs, but there were signs of his overdosing well before he died that caregivers ignored, the county reports show.
The day before his death, Steven slept until noon and missed school. Later that afternoon, Brown dropped the teen with Schwartz at a Subway sandwich shop for a supervised visit with Steven's grandmother and the boy's father.
His relatives were instantly concerned, when Steven staggered out of Brown's van and had to be propped up just to enter the restaurant. In a cellphone video reviewed by this newspaper, Steven slurs his words and can barely keep his eyes open. The family members implored Schwartz to get the boy to a nearby hospital just minutes away. Instead, he took Steven back to the foster home.
Other foster boys in Brown's home told investigators Steven had been using Xanax and pain pills in the weeks before his death, and in his room officers found 80 pills "and a large amount of money consistent with 'dealing' pills to other people."
Berkeley child psychiatrist Ed Levin, who has treated foster youth for decades and reviewed portions of the coroner's report, said Steven showed clear signs of impairment that required immediate medical attention. "Somebody," he said, "needed to get him to an emergency department."
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