A recent study published in The Journal of Internal Medicine found that doctors regularly prescribe risky drugs to elderly patients, and that those living in the South were especially at risk.
Our Lake Worth nursing home negligence attorneys understand that the study, conducted by medical doctors at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, focused on a list of more than 100 medications that the National Committee of Quality Assurance has deemed dangerous for older patients. Many of the medications have a wide swath of use, as the side effects in younger patients are mild or moderate. However, the drugs are known to have risks that are amplified for older patients.
One of those, for example, is Valium. It’s a type of benzodiazepine, and older patients are known to have a tougher time metabolizing the drug. That means the drug is going to stay in their system for longer stretches of time. That puts them at risk for longer periods of sedation, which may result in falls and fractures that could be deadly. Not only that, but the drug is known to be highly addictive. It’s only supposed to be used as a last-resort drug, and what researchers learned was that almost always, there is a safer alternative available.
Similar trends were spotted with the prescription of medications for diabetes and muscle relaxants.
The study’s author said he has been aware for sometime that these medications were over-prescribed. However, he wanted to get a better sense of the full extent of the problem, and what types of factors would lead doctors to prescribe medicine they know to be potentially harmful to their older patients.
In seeking answers, researchers combed through records of six million older adults in the U.S. with enrollment in the Medicare Advantage plan in 2009. Of those, some 1.3 million – or about 1 in 5 – were prescribed at least one high-risk medication that year. That was despite the fact that the majority of those drugs had safer alternatives.
Additionally, about 5 percent of those older patients were being prescribed more than one potentially dangerous medication.
Researchers noted one city in Georgia where 40 percent of older adults had been prescribed at least one dangerous drug. Another city in Louisiana had the most seniors who had been given more than one high-risk medication. The south overall appeared to display higher rates of the problem.
It’s unclear why this might be. Researchers speculated it might have something to do with patients simply asking for these drugs more regularly. Regardless, it is the doctor’s responsibility to exercise caution.
The practice of using many different medications at once is known as polypharmacy, and it’s worth noting that another recent study found that it’s a big problem for older adults. The average 65-year-old in the U.S. takes at least four prescription medications, which can often lead to reactions that are not only unexpected but dangerous. In fact, adverse reactions to these medications account for more than one-third of all hospital admissions.
Family members of Lake Worth nursing home residents should not be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that just because a loved one is in a nursing home that medical staff will catch such adverse effects, especially when facilities are under-staffed and workers are under-qualified.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Elderly Patients Routinely Prescribed Risky Drugs, April 15, 2013, By Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times
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