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Are Nursing Homes Overmedicating Their Residents?

While most nursing homes treat their patients with the care and respect one would expect, recent cases have brought to light the dangerous issue of unnecessarily prescribed antipsychotic drugs.

According to Charlene Harrington, a professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California, potentially 1 in 5 nursing home patients are unnecessarily given antipsychotic drugs in the U.S.’s 15,500 nursing homes.

Antipsychotic drugs, intended for people with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, carry the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) black-box warning that states those drugs are not intended for use by frail older patients, or for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Those drugs are known to trigger confusion, disorientation, anxiety, agitation, and even death. A report from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform also states that, “They can dull a patient’s memory, sap their personalities and crush their spirits.”

Experts say this problem can be traced back to pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketing and pushing their products, as well as understaffed and inadequately trained workers in nursing homes. In November of 2013, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were fined over $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges relating to their aggressive marketing of drugs to nursing homes, despite the fact that the drugs were not approved by the FDA as safe and effective for elderly populations.

Along with those charges, Johnson & Johnson allegedly paid kickbacks to physicians for recommending their drugs for use in nursing homes.

In 2009, Eli Lilly agreed to pay $1.4 billion in a similar settlement. Federal prosecutors charged the company with marketing the antipsychotic Zyprexa to older patients in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Don’t Let The Doctors Keep You In The Dark

  • The law requires “informed consent” by a patient before drugs can be administered, and if the patient is no longer able to give informed consent, it must be given by their family.
  • If you are the family member in charge of giving consent, make sure you have a complete list of all medications given to your loved one.

Too many nursing homes are understaffed and overworked. There should be 1 certified nursing assistant (CAN) for every 7 patients, but in some cases the ratio is closer to 1 for every 15 patients. Compounding this issue is a lack of physicians present in nursing homes. Part of the issue stems from the low rate of reimbursement from Medicare, leading to nursing homes being seen as a place where few top doctors practice.

According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), nursing homes cite behavioral problems as their explanation for giving patients unnecessary antipsychotic drugs, and pharmaceutical companies aggressively market their products as easy and effective ways to control those issues.

The Pintas & Mullins Law Firm, established in 1985, works to meet the needs of nursing home patients across the country. If you have discovered the nursing home you placed your loved one in is abusive or neglectful, contact us today for a free consultation so we can discuss your legal options while giving you the support you need.