Many patients in nursing homes given antipsychotic drugs

Group of old black and caucasian men talking in parkWhile some nursing home patients rely on their medications to increase their ability to function, not all senior citizens depend on prescription medications. In fact, the Mayo Clinic states that as a person ages, their tolerance to certain drugs changes, making some medications harmful for the elderly to take. Yet many nursing home residents in Nevada and across the United States are being given antipsychotic drugs on a regular basis, regardless of whether they need them or not. This form of nursing home abuse is concerning, and stories of antipsychotic drug misuse has raised the awareness of people across the country.

Misuse of antipsychotic drugs

As many as 20 percent of America’s nursing home patients are given unnecessary antipsychotic medications, which can result in significant trauma and even death, according to a professor at the University of California. These potent drugs are meant for people who suffer from severe mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

An AARP report indicates that many of these medications carry an FDA black box warning, which cautions people against using antipsychotic drugs in the elderly population or for people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. For those people, antipsychotic drugs may cause confusion, agitation, disorientation, anxiety and death. Prescription drug errors in dispensing or administrating these medications to the elderly can have grave consequences.

Causes of drug misuse

According to an AARP report, experts point to understaffing and inadequate training as primary reasons for errors involving antipsychotic drugs, but the issue stems out from there. Several major U.S. drug manufacturers have been fined for aggressively marketing their antipsychotic drugs to nursing home populations, even though they know that the medication is contraindicated in the elderly. One drug corporation was fined for allegedly providing compensation to physicians who would write prescriptions for their products.

Lack of physician support also seems to also be a problem in many nursing home facilities. While nursing home residents are often in need of constant medical supervision, physicians are rarely present, according to California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Medicare simply does not provide adequate reimbursement to doctors who work at nursing homes, which makes it hard to retain the services of top physicians. Much of the work is left up to certified nursing assistants and nurses, who carry heavy workloads.

Case in point

An otherwise healthy 79-year-old patient checked into a California nursing facility to receive assistance with her broken pelvis. When she arrived at the facility, the woman was on cholesterol and blood pressure medication, and needed an inhaler to help with her breathing. Although she was only in the nursing home for 18 days, she emerged an entirely different person, according to her daughter. She had slurred speech and was chewing on her hand as she was wheeled out slumped over in her chair. She died a few weeks later. With help from a team of attorneys, the deceased woman’s daughter was able to file a class-action lawsuit against the nursing home facility for misusing drugs, without the consent of family members or residents.

Although some nursing home centers have implemented programs to help them eliminate the issue of antipsychotic drugs, it is crucial for people to remain aware of what medications they are taking or have a family member help to ensure they are getting the right medications.