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Blood Thinning Drugs in Nursing Homes Causing Deaths and Injuries

We have written extensively on the dangers of new blood thinning drugs like Xarelto and Pradaxa. Lesser known are the dangers of an older and much more popular type of blood thinner in nursing homes. Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers highlights the importance of medication safety among nursing home residents.

Coumadin (or the generic, warfarin) has been the most-used blood thinning drug since the 1950s. It has saved countless lives, but it must be carefully and consistently monitored with blood tests and diet changes. If it is not properly controlled, the drug can cause fatal bleeding or blood clots.

Blood thinners help the body control how fast blood clots, preventing pre-existing clots from getting larger or breaking off and traveling to the lungs, brain or heart. Some patients take warfarin for abnormal heart rhythms, or to prevent strokes, pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. The drug requires delicate medical supervision, however, and far too many understaffed and under-resourced nursing homes are unable to properly monitor residents on this medication.

Between 2011 and 2014, at least 165 nursing home residents died or were hospitalized because of warfarin errors. These are only the incidents reported to the government. Studies suggest there are thousands more injuries from warfarin every year that are never reported. The American Journal of Medicine estimates that residents suffer 34,000 serious warfarin events each year. The president of Geriatric Practice Management called warfarin the most dangerous drug in America.

Many medications, vitamins and nutrients can have an effect on warfarin. Nursing home residents are often prescribed many different medications, some of which can have disastrous side effects when combined with warfarin. One woman in a San Diego nursing home died from internal bleeding after staff gave her antibiotics that strengthened warfarin's effects and failed to notify her doctors or conduct routine blood tests.

Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to curb the overuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes. Antipsychotics like Seroquel and Abilify are extremely powerful drugs meant to help symptoms of bipolar and schizophrenia. They are specifically not meant for elderly patients or those with dementia, as they can induce these patients into a stupor, increasing the risk of falls, premature death, and significantly decreasing quality of life.

The national effort to reduce the misuse of antipsychotics has succeeded, but the dangers of blood thinners remain unaddressed. Neither federal investigators nor medical trade groups have properly studied warfarin death and injury reports, despite knowledge that it is among the most common drugs involved in medication errors.

In 2013 more than 2.4 million seniors and disabled people on Medicare filled a prescription for warfarin. About 1 in 6 nursing home residents take a blood thinner, the majority of which are on warfarin, as it is the least expensive and best-known type. The drug requires coordination between doctors, nurses, pharmacists and aides, which is rare even in the best nursing homes. Residents do not get the drug as ordered, or receive the wrong dose, or doctors are not told about worsening symptoms.

Xarelto, Pradaxa, Eliquis Litigation

Newer blood thinners on market, such as Xarelto, Pradaxa and Eliquis, are marketed as easier to use, but come with their own severe risks. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against drug makers of these 3 medications for failing to warn the public that they could cause irreversible bleeding. Warfarin, though more complicated to monitor, can be reversed with vitamin K. The newer drugs have no reversal agent, so if patients suffer any type of bleed they can easily suffer fatal blood loss or hemorrhaging.

One lawsuit was recently filed by a woman whose husband died of side effects from Eliquis. She claims that the drug makers failed to warn patients that the drug could cause life-threatening bleeding events, such as gastrointestinal and brain hemorrhage, and that there is no way to stop the bleeding. She claims the drug companies concealed major errors and fraud in their clinical trials to gain approval.

In 2014, Pradaxa's manufacturer agreed to pay $650 million to settle similar claims. Dozens of lawsuits have also been filed against Xarelto.

Our nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have 30 years of experience fighting on behalf of residents injured by improper medication. If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by a medication error, contact our firm immediately. We provide free case reviews to potential clients nationwide.