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Overmedication of Nursing Home Patients a Form of Abuse

Far too frequently, nursing home health care providers intentionally force elderly residents with dementia to consume hefty amounts of powerful antipsychotic drugs – most of which contain a black box warning indicating a heightened risk of infection and death.

According to a recent report by NPR, it’s estimated some 300,000 nursing home residents are currently receiving some level of antipsychotic medication, despite the fact these drugs are mainly used to treat serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Health care providers in nursing home settings use the drugs to suppress anxiety or aggression in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – even knowing the grave risks associated with the drugs. It’s a form of chemical restraint, and it may be considered a form of negligence or even outright abuse in some cases.

Our Fort Lauderdale nursing home abuse attorneys know often, family members aren’t given a full understanding of what their loved ones are receiving or the possible dangerous side effects associated with those medications. Most don’t know these drugs aren’t necessary.

The reality is, these kinds of drugs should only be used as a very last resort. They not only will alter a person’s behavior, they can affect one’s personality and blunt their reaction times. Particularly dangerous for nursing home residents is that it increases their risk of a fall.

When patients and/or loved ones acting as guardians aren’t told the truth about these medications, they cannot offer informed consent, which could be the basis for a civil lawsuit if those drugs in turn cause the patient harm. In some cases, family members are simply told the doctor has prescribed a medication to their loved one and instructed to sign a form. This is not informed consent.

One plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed in California over a host of informed consent violations indicated she had no idea her mother was on so many medications – including two powerful antipsychotic medications – until she fell and broke her hip. At that time, she was given an itemized list of her mother’s medications. The nursing home later settled the lawsuit out-of-court, and was required to change practices in order to ensure informed consent.

However, such violations are not rare.

A government study in 2011 revealed nearly 90 percent of Medicare claims for antipsychotic drugs prescribed to nursing home patients were for those with some form of dementia. But these drugs are not federally approved for this purpose. In 2012, the federal government led a charge to get nursing homes to slash the rate of antipsychotic drugs prescriptions by 15 percent that year. However, what was supposed to take less than one year ended up taking two years, and there are still hundreds of thousands of elderly dementia patients who receive these prescriptions.

Per federal law – 42 C.F.R. Part 483 – prescribing such powerful drugs solely for the convenience of staffers is a violation. Health care providers must offer a documented need for these drugs. Most of the time, there isn’t one.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Old and Overmedicated: The Real Drug Problem in Nursing Homes, Dec. 9, 2014, By Ina Jaffe, NPR

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Lawsuits Push Bad Operators Out of Business, Nov. 9, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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