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U.S. Files Suit against PharMerica for Dispensing Drugs to Seniors without Prescriptions

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that the United States federal government recently filed a lawsuit against pharmacy company PharMerica over allegations that it is dispensing medications to senior citizens without prescriptions. The company is also accused of submitting false claims to Medicare for these prescriptions.

PharMerica provides an array of drugs to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including Schedule II controlled substances like oxycodone and antipsychotic drugs, which we have written extensively about on this blog. The federal government is arguing that PharMerica dispensed these dangerous, highly abused drugs to residents in non-emergency situations and without prescriptions.

This, of course, is highly illegal, as is billing Medicare and Medicaid for the improperly dispensed medications. Most residents of nursing homes in the country are dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for their health care costs. Whatever medications they are given, whether they ask for them or not, are billed to the government. PharMerica, allegedly, was taking advantage of the high costs of Schedule II drugs, and knowingly submitting the false claims for reimbursement.

The lawsuit was spurred by a July 2009 complaint by a PharMerica employee, who filed a suit against the company under the False Claims Act (FCA). By May 2010, two other employees had joined the suit and filed their own, similar complaints.

PharMerica serves about 300,000 long-term care residents for whom it fills approximately 40 million prescriptions per year. By allowing nursing home employees to order and administer narcotics and antipsychotics before a medical doctor deemed it necessary, PharMerica violated not only the FCA but the Controlled Substances Act as well.

Antipsychotics and narcotics have been used in long-term care settings for decades, often as chemical restraints, to subdue “unruly residents.” With the introduction of such drugs after the Second World War, nursing home administrators decided to use pharmaceuticals to restrain residents prone to outbursts instead of physical restraints, such as straps and belts. This, despite the overwhelming lack of knowledge about how these drugs actually worked in the brain.

In recent years, the FDA has made notable efforts to deemphasize the use of narcotics and antipsychotics in nursing homes by adding black box warnings to these classes of drugs. Black box warnings are the agency’s most powerful alerts, warning physicians that their use in certain demographics (say, in those with dementia) carries a very high risk of death.

It may surprise some to learn that scientists still do not understand the mechanisms through which most drugs (including antidepressants) work in the brain. There have been many theories, though they have all failed. There are more neurons in the human brain than there are stars in the Milky Way, and the more we try to treat it with pharmaceuticals, the more elusive it becomes. Physicians and drug companies continue to tell patients and families of nursing home residents, however, that their mental ailments are the result of ‘chemical imbalances’ in the brain, which gives them a reason to take their meds on schedule or, in the case of nursing homes, whenever they are irritable.

In light of this, the National Institute of Mental Health recently re-stimulated its efforts into mental disorder neurocircuitry research, and the Obama Administration has initiated a program to reduce, by at least 30%, the prevalence of antipsychotics in nursing homes. Fortunately, the federal initiative has garnered some success: between 2011 and 2013, the use of these medications (Seroquel, Zyprexa, Abilify, Risperdal)fell 9% among long-stay nursing home residents. This is a substantial gain – in 2011 a federal report estimated that 88% of dementia patients in nursing homes were prescribed an antipsychotic.

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins commend the efforts of the federal government and its rethinking of dementia care and psychiatric drugs. If you or a loved one was illegally administered dangerous drug by nursing home employees and suffered severe or debilitating effects from them, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your suffering, and should contact qualified attorney today.