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Nursing Home Residents Suffering From Misuse of Antipsychotic Medications

Although many nursing homes around the country deliver quality care, there are still far too many nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are failing to give residents the care that they deserve. Unfortunately, our nursing home abuse lawyers warn that federal nursing home regulations on antipsychotic drugs are vague, putting many residents at risk.

The Boston Globe recently exposed a serious problem at a large number of Massachusetts nursing homes. It appears that many of these homes are misusing strong antipsychotic medications to control residents’ disruptive behavior. At least 27 homes in the state were cited with such violations from 2009-2011. However, these homes were not even forced to pay fines.

According to federal guidelines, antipsychotics are meant for patients with serious mental illness. However, a number of nursing homes are administering antipsychotics to residents who kick, punch or shove others in order to sedate and subdue them. Frequently, staff administers antipsychotics to residents with dementia, despite federal warnings the deadly side effects in those with dementia.

Government sources reveal that antipsychotics are overused more frequently in Massachusetts nursing homes than in the country as a whole. However, only a small number of facilities with high incidence of unnecessary utilization were punished by state regulators.

In those citations, inspection reports revealed that residents were given anti-psychotics for months and sometimes years without proof that employees at the home attempted to wean them off, which is necessitated by federal law. Some reports detailed examples in which residents were so over-medicated that they could not open their mouths to eat or do anything more than sleep.

One troubling incident involved a 94-year-old resident of Fairhaven Nursing Center. The elderly woman was depressed following the death of her husband of 72 years. Though counseling was recommended by a social worker, she did not receive any counseling services. Instead, the nursing home’s physician put her on an antipsychotic medication and antidepressant.

Following the woman’s hospitalization for a seizure, the doctor doubled her antipsychotic dose without providing any explanation. When state inspectors asked why the woman was on the medication for close to a year even when she didn’t show any symptoms of psychosis, nursing staff said that the doctor “liked the medication.”

A top nursing home regulator in Massachusetts said inspectors have a hard time punishing nursing home for unnecessary antipsychotic drug use because federal guidelines are vague and harm that occurs from the misuse of these drugs is often not direct and can occur weeks after patients are put on the medications.

The problem with the misuse of antipsychotic drugs is not limited to Massachusetts. In fact, reports indicate that many nursing homes in the country unnecessarily prescribe residents antipsychotic medications. In 2010, at least 185,000 nursing home residents around the nation were prescribed powerful antipsychotic drugs without a valid reason.

Other findings include:

• Two-thirds of the instances of unnecessary psychotic use pertained to residents with dementia.

• The most frequently cited abused medication was Seroquel, an antipsychotic that was the subject of a 2005 US Food and Drug Administration black-box warning. A black-box warning is the agency’s most severe medication alert – about possible deadly side effects for dementia patients.

If your loved one was a victim of antipsychotic drug abuse at a nursing home, a nursing home abuse attorney can protect your legal rights.