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Report: South Florida Doctors Heavily Prescribe Tranquilizers to Seniors

Excess prescription of powerful tranquilizers in nursing homes and among seniors in general has been identified as a major problem within elder care facilities.

A 2014 study by JAMA Psychiatry revealed almost 12 percent of women who are 80 are prescribed benzodiazepines, a class of sedatives and anti-anxiety medications that are generally supposed to be avoided by elderly patients, as they have been linked to dangerous side effects – particularly for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In nursing homes, these kinds of tranquilizing drugs have been used improperly as a way to suppress patients who might otherwise be seen as “troublesome” to staffers. But not only are powerful drugs dangerous with little benefit for those who consume them, there are other ways to deal with those behaviors.

Federal health care advocates have identified reduction of antipsychotic prescriptions for elderly patients as a primary goal in coming years, but it seems these anti-anxiety drugs may be the replacement – and to the detriment of patients.

In Florida, especially, it is a serious problem, according to a new report.

In 2012, Medicare’s huge drug program didn’t spend any money on tranquilizers like Xanax, Valium and Ativan. The very next year, it shelled out nearly $380 million for those kinds of drugs. Congress had decided more than a decade earlier it wasn’t going to pay for benzodiazepines due to their increased risk of abuse, falls and fractures among elderly (which make up the majority of Medicare’s beneficiaries).

People still received the mediation, they just found other ways to pay for it. When Congress finally allowed payment for these types of drugs, some 40 million people sought and received those prescriptions. In fact, they were among the most-prescribed drugs of the program in 2013.

The problem is especially problematic in Florida. In 2013, an investigation found some 145 doctors in the state prescribed 2,000 prescriptions for these type of drugs to Medicare patients. Compare that to all of Alabama: Just 27 doctors prescribed these drugs – and that was the second-highest in the nation.

The drugs can be beneficial for helping to quickly address panic attacks. However, they pose special problems for elderly patients. For example, they are highly addictive, the effects last longer in elderly patients and they are associated with agitation, delirium and insomnia.

Plus, it’s been revealed many doctors are using these drugs for patients in nursing homes to replace antipsychotic medications. Medicare spent more for benzodiazepines in 2013 than it did for antipsychotic medications. Some health care safety advocates say this is a serious concern because, in some ways, benzodiazepines could be worse for seniors.

A single doctor was found within one year to have written nearly 12,000 prescriptions for benzodiazepines (that includes refills). He insists the drugs work for those struggling with anxiety and depression – and many nursing home patients are.

Other doctors with a high level of prescriptions for Medicare patients do acknowledge the risks, but say the drugs are generally safe for short-term use.

One doctor, after contacted by a reporter about the high number of prescriptions of these drugs among elderly patients, said he intended to review his own practices, conceding he wasn’t aware his figure was so high above the rest.

In cases where elderly nursing home patients suffer harm as a result of ill effects from powerful medications that they may not need, our Broward nursing home negligence lawyers can help our clients explore all avenues of compensation.

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

Additional Resources:

Florida, Miami-Dade doctors are heavy prescribers of tranquilizers for seniors, report says, June 10, 2015, By Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Johns, ProPublica

More Blog Entries:

Lawsuit: Nursing Home Tried to Conceal Medication Error, June 30, 2015, Broward Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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