A Fairfield father says that a federally funded health clinic operating within Lawrence High School provided his minor daughter with a baggy of prescription anti-depressants without his knowledge or consent.
When the girl’s father, Eric Sack, discovered the baggy of pills over the weekend, his daughter told him that it was provided to her by the Bulldog Health Center, a School Based Health Center (SBHC) at Lawrence High School.
Sack saw the the pills as an infringement on his parental rights, but he was also concerned that the school’s clinic sent unlabeled drugs with no child-resistant container into his home, where his two other younger children also live.
He called Lawrence High School Principal Dan Bowers to complain about the undisclosed drug treatments the school clinic gave his daughter, but Bowers insisted the SBHC was a separate entity from the school and not under his control.
Bowers did not respond to a phone call and an email seeking comment for this story.
Sack said representatives from the Bulldog Health Center, which is operated by the Waterville-based HealthReach Community Health Centers, told him they were legally allowed to give his daughter prescription drugs without informing him, but they wouldn’t address the lack of a label or safety container.
Calls placed to the Bulldog Health Center and HealthReach’s main office were not returned.
Sack pulled his daughter out of the public school this week to make her appointments with a doctor and a therapist.
“I’m looking out for the best interests of my daughter. That’s why I pulled her out of school,” said Sack. “Because I don’t think she really ought to be there if they’re going to start giving her pills, you know? Until I sit down with a doctor that I pick for my daughter, not through the school.”
After Sack withheld his daughter from school, someone at either the school or the health clinic contacted the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Child and Family Services, the division of state government tasked with investigating allegations of child abuse.
On Thursday, an agent from Child Protective Services (CPS) called Sack and informed him that he would be arriving shortly to make a surprise visit to his home to conduct a child welfare investigation.
“They called and said it was an emergency situation at my house, that I was pretty near holding my daughter hostage, is what the gentleman that came yesterday told me,” Sack said.
“He had information that only the school and Bulldog Health Center had,” he said.
For three hours, CPS Agent Dylan Wood grilled Sack and his family individually and as a group, including asking questions about Sack’s firearms and where he keeps them.
Wood, Sack said, eventually indicated that the complaint against him appeared to be unfounded.
The visit from CPS is reminiscent of similar visits that happened in a Damariscotta school district last year after two parents complained about a 26-year-old social worker who had begun a social gender transition on a 13-year-old girl without her mother’s consent.
The mother, as well as another district parent who complained about the social worker, both received visits from a CPS agent to investigate allegations that they had abused their children.
Both parents told the Maine Wire that they believed the CPS visits were retaliation for their criticizing transgender ideology.
Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield), whose district includes Lawrence High School, condemned the provision of prescription medications to minors without informed consent from parents.
“Giving prescription meds to a child without parental permission is dangerous and unacceptable,” Rudnicki said.
Sack acknowledged that he or his wife may have signed a consent form at the start of the school year, one of many forms parents are asked to sign.
But he still believes that clinic staffers acted inappropriately when they sent his daughter home with a baggy of drugs.
“You can’t just give my daughter pills in a ziplock baggie and send them home,” said Sack, adding that he would be consulting with attorneys to see what legal recourse he might have.
The Bulldog Health Center, like other SBHCs, receives funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the Health Center Program.
HRSA is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Because of the federal grant it receives, employees at the clinic have a Public Health Service designation, which means they are protected from liability in the event they are accused of negligence or wrongdoing.
Were someone to file a lawsuit against the clinic, they would effectively be suing the federal government.
Sertraline, marketed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer under the brand name “Zoloft”, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
Like other antidepressants, Zoloft carries a black box warning because it can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, adolescents, and young adults under the age of 24, especially in the initial stages of treatment or when doses are changed.
Sack said he had no idea how the prescription drugs the school clinic provided to his daughter were supposed to be paid for.
In 2021, HealthReach reported earnings of $11.3 million through its pharmacy program.