Alongside photographs of rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Giovan Bazan looks downright blithe. Although they tower over him, the tuxedo-clad Bazan wearing a slight smirk, his gelled hair and pierced ears sharply contrasting his suit-and-tie apparel.
With his cheery disposition, you wouldn’t suspect Bazan had a troubled childhood. In reality, the 21-year-old has spent a majority of his life in foster homes, and for most of his childhood, he was prescribed anti-depressants and behavioral disorder drugs.
“I went into foster care at 11 months old,” the Los Angeles native said. “When I was six, they put me on medication.”
By many accounts Bazan has come a long way since his days in foster care. In September he spoke at Atlanta-based CHRIS KIDS' 11th annual fundraiser alongside towering protraits of celebrities. He has adressed state legislature multiple times about issues pressing foster youth in the state. He has managed to turn his troubled childhood into a stepping stone, not a crux.
Kathy Colbenson, CEO of CHRIS KIDS and co-organizer of the fundraiser, said Bazan's combination of determination, will and outlook has set a tremendous example for children around the nation facing similar circumstances.
“I think what he’s doing is awesome,” she said.
Today Bazan holds a number of titles. He is the JUSTGeorgia project coordinator for EmpowerMEnt, an initiative of Multi-Agency Alliance for Children, Inc. that is designed to help at-risk youth within the state. He also serves as a Youth Support Specialist Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, a liaison for the White House Council for Community Solutions, and as owner and CEO of the National Executive Protection Agency.
“It’s a travesty how frequently kids in the foster care system are medicated, and I feel like my foster mom wanted to keep me medicated,” Bazan said. “When they put me on medication, when they started to sedate me, it abused my emotions and controlled my mind to the point where I went from being a child to being nothing short of a vegetable.”
Bazan started receiving psychotropic medication following the death of one of his foster mothers, he said.
“Mommy Karen was very caring, she was very supportive, very loving,” he said, recalling her life. “If I scratched a knee, she would be there to hold me.”
Bazan remembered taking cross-country road trips from California to South Carolina. But he didn't know the “vacations” were actually for his foster mother to receive chemotherapy treatments. She died of cancer when he was just four-years-old, he said.
After her death, Bazan was taken in by a foster mother that he claimed was vindictive and hostile toward him.
“She was always angry about something that I did," Bazan said. "I always felt that, for some reason, she always resented me.”
Bazan began receiving behavioral treatment drugs shortly after, he said.
“It started with Ritalin,” Bazan said. Soon after he was prescribed, what he called, a “cocktail of medication” by psychiatrists - primarily anti-depressant drugs.
“That little childhood personality that kids have was void,” Bazan said about his experiences in elementary school. “I would come to class and just put my head down and not talk to my classmates. I couldn’t explain it, I didn’t know what was going on.”
Originally he was medicated for displaying symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, he said.
“When I was medicated, it was to eradicate a specific problem, which was [being] overactive and hyper,” Bazan said. “In other words, being a child. They medicated me to prevent me from being a child.”
Bazan said it was too much, considering himself overmedicated as a child.
“As time progressed, the dosage of the medication would have to increase because my body would adjust to the medication,” he said. “This medication that they would give me had so many side effects that they would have to counter those side effects with more medication.”
As a child, Bazan said, he was given experimental dosages of psychotropic medication. In elementary school, he said, he received treatment doses that were equivalent to those given to teenagers and young adults.
“Ultimately, that’s what they were doing ... they were testing on me,” he said. “I was having seizures, I would have horrendous nosebleeds. It was more detrimental than it was helpful.”
In 2010, the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute released a report showing that overmedication within the foster care system was indeed a problem. About 52 percent of kids in the system had been prescribed psychotropic medication. Bazan found the findings both alarming and horrifying.
“One of the biggest changes that we’re looking to in the future deals with regulating psychotropic medication being administered to foster care children,” he said. “They’re being medicated because they’re coming from abusive homes, when what really happens is the system tends to look at a case and say ‘oh, well they’re having trouble paying attention.' Well, yeah, they’re having trouble paying attention in school because they’re getting beat up at home and they’re being abused at home. Whatever stress a normal kid has, theirs is exponentially multiplied.”
In 2011, Georgia legislators introduced House Bill 23 (HB 23), a bill aimed at regulating and monitoring psychotropic drug prescriptions within the foster care system. But the bill, also known as the "Foster Children's Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act,” never made it into law.
Bazan said anyone that doesn't see the dangers of overprescribing psychiatric drugs, to kids or to anyone, should try taking them for themselves.
“Take it for a couple of years,” he said. “That’s what happens to the foster kids. They’re not given medication for a couple of months, and bam, the problem’s solved. Psychotropic medication isn’t designed to be taken like antibiotics, where you can take them for a certain amount of time and the problem is eliminated. You have to take a higher dosage, and you have to take a higher dosage and when it no longer affects you, you have to switch to a more powerful medication.”
According to Bazan, behavioral drugs and other forms of psychiatric medicine pose an imminent threat to kids in Georgia foster care and throughout the nation.
“If you can find valid proof that [discredits] what evidence has shown over and over again that it is harmful to youth, then by all means, let me know,” he said. “But you won’t find that evidence outside of pharmaceutical companies, who push that kind of information out there.”
Photo credit: CHRIS KIDS