A 16-year-old boy was prescribed and pressured into taking estrogen as treatment while at a Los Angeles County juvenile hall. His parents are now suing, claiming they were never consulted or made aware of the doctor’s decision.
Two days after being arrested and taken to Eastlake Juvenile Hall last June, the teenager who is referred to as “J.N.” in the suit (his name is being kept private because he is a minor) was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
A doctor at the juvenile facility prescribed estrogen as a treatment for the disorder, though the lawsuit describes this plan as highly “experimental” since ODD is typically dealt with through therapy — and estrogen can have unintended consequences if given to a teenager whose hormone levels will already be fluctuating.
Medical records show the 16-year-old had high testosterone levels when he entered the juvenile hall, but this would be typical for a male of his age.
After 13 doses of estrogen (he was supposed to receive 30), the boy was diagnosed with gynecomastia, which is the swelling or enlargement of the breast tissue in males when estrogen levels are too high. The condition led to teasing by others in the juvenile facility and the teen also experienced mood swings and pimple breakouts all over his body.
Despite being a minor, the boy’s parents claim they were not only never informed of the estrogen treatment, but they were also not told about any sort of mental illness diagnosis. The boy’s father discovered his son was taking pills one month after he had been incarcerated and was immediately furious.
“When I found out they were giving him the pill, I was like, ‘why didn’t they ask me?’” he said. “He’s only 16, and they were forcing him to take it.”
The boy claims that even he was not told what the medication was, but that he was informed he could not refuse it and felt pressured by the staff, including his own probation officer.
Asked whether the doctor, Danny Wang, who prescribed the dubious treatment and made the original diagnosis still remained employed, a Department of Health Services spokesperson would only say his current status is a “confidential personnel matter,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Wang first began working for the county in 2012.
Wang and David Oh, medical director for Juvenile Court Health Services, are named specifically in the suit, which was filed last month, as co-defendants, along with the county itself. According to the boy’s father, he spoke directly with Oh, who admitted to Wang making a “mistake.”
Now out of the juvenile hall as of April, the teenage boy at the center of the debacle will require surgery to reverse the negative physical effects of the treatment. He is also said to be suffering from anxiety. “He’s like a different person,” his father said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to reinstate funding for the Probation Oversight Commission (POC) last month over allegations the system is overmedicating and diagnosing teenagers, meaning more oversight is on the way. In a 2015 study, it was found that over 90 percent of kids under the care of LA County Probation’s supervision were diagnosed with a mental health issue, many of those “mood disorders” that were treated with medication.
Wesley Ouchi, the attorney representing the teen prescribed estrogen, told WitnessLA that little oversight in the system could mean his lawsuit reveals other teenagers given “experimental” treatments similar to his client’s, which he describes as “potentially criminal.”
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