Antipsychotic Drug Use in Nursing Homes Can Be Unnecessary and Dangerous

Nursing home drugs

In what is now a frowned-upon practice, many nursing home residents are prescribed unnecessary antipsychotic medications. Some researchers believe that a full 25% of all nursing home residents are currently on antipsychotic drugs, while only 5% of those individuals actually need those drugs for medical reasons. While it is estimated that 60% to 70% of all nursing home residents have some form of dementia, an antipsychotic drug does not treat these conditions. The drugs, meant for persons with serious psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, can cause confusion, disorientation, anxiety, memory loss, and even result in death when given to patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Over-prescription of antipsychotic drugs is believed to stem from several causes and influences. The under-staffing of nursing homes and resulting desire to make residents docile and easy to manage is seen as a major reason for their use. While best practices instruct nursing homes to have one certified nursing assistant for every seven residents, many nursing homes have fewer, sometimes exceeding a ratio of one to every fifteen patients. Many nursing homes cite behavior problems as the reason the drugs are given to patients, despite knowing the risks of sedating residents with these drugs. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies employ hard marketing tactics to sell the drugs to nursing home doctors, also leading to increased use.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) functions as the monitoring agency over nursing homes that receive federal funding. In recent years, the CMS has recognized the potential harm which can result from over-prescription of antipsychotic medication, and included a measure of what percentage of residents are on antipsychotic drugs in their ratings of nursing homes. A high percentage of antipsychotic drug use is considered a negative component, bringing down the overall star rating of a facility.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, take note of any changes in their behavior which occur over a short span of time. If your family member appears to be less energetic, out of it, or has memory problems that did not previously exist, you may want to look into whether they are taking antipsychotic drugs, which may be a form or nursing home abuse or neglect.

You have a right to ask questions of staff about the medications your loved one is taking, and the reasons behind the prescriptions. Nursing homes are obligated to obtain informed consent from either the resident or, if that is not possible, the resident’s family members, before administering any medications to treat psychosis. However, this consent isn’t always obtained. Explore legal options to ensure that any harm done is compensated, and that your loved one’s health and care is put first.

If your or your loved one have been a victim of nursing home abuse or malpractice, contact New York Hudson Valley nursing home abuse attorneys Basch & Keegan for a free consultation on your claims, at (845) 338-8884 in Kingston or (518) 288-5600 in Albany.