A study published recently by Human Rights Watch reveals roughly 180,000 nursing home residents are being given antipsychotic drugs, despite the fact they have not been diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia, which the medications are specifically designed to treat.
In many instances, a strong case could be made for medical malpractice or nursing home abuse negligence, depending on the circumstances and the harm suffered by the patient. Most nursing home residents have either Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, but antipsychotic medication is not approved for treatment of those illnesses. Furthermore, these medications come with a U.S. Food & Drug Administration “black box warning,” indicating these medications may put those with dementia and similar conditions at risk of death.
Researchers concluded the drugs were administered despite lack of informed consent and rather than for the benefit of the patient, for the benefit of the facility and its staffers – to make patients easier to manage when the nursing homes are understaffed. The drugs have a sedative effect, and that, rather than any other medical benefit they might have, is largely while they are so prevalent in nursing homes. The problem is they also alter one’s consciousness, meaning they can negatively impact a person’s ability to interact with others. They can also make it much easier for someone working in an understaffed facility to care for these patients – particularly if they aren’t properly trained. As our nursing home abuse lawyers in Orlando know, a great many nursing homes have staffing levels that fall far below what is considered necessary to provide a minimum level of care.
The study authors focused their analysis on six states, including Florida, which have the most skilled nursing facilities. They culled reams of public data and conducted hundreds of interviews with those having a direct stake, including families, residents, officials and state-level ombudsmen.
Six yeas ago, the federal government launched a program to slash the number of nursing homes using these drugs. Since then, the percentage of those using the drugs has fallen by about one-third nationally, from 24 percent to about 16 percent at the start of 2017. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have called for an additional reduction of 15 percent by next year for those facilities that still report a high percentage of using these drugs.
The Human Rights Watch still alleges not enough adequate action has been taken by the federal government to curtail this problem. Further, the organization points the finger at the government for failing to enforce existing provisions of law intended to keep residents safe from what are sometimes referred to as “chemical restraints.” NPR launched an investigation a few years ago into the government’s program intended to lower the use of antipsychotic medications, and found only 2 percent were found to be serious enough to trigger a fine.
Federal laws require patients to be fully informed of their treatment and their rights to refuse it, yet nursing homes routinely fail to obtain patient consent or even try to do so, the HRW reports. Such consent is especially important with these types of drugs, given the fact that they present such serious risks with very little chance it will benefit them.
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“They Want Docile” How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia, Feb. 5, 2018, Human Rights Watch
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