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Psychotropic Drugs Frequently Misused in Nursing Facilities

The daughter of a Greeneville, TN man has settled a lawsuit against her father’s nursing home after he was given several powerful psychotropic medications that were not clinically warranted for a patient with Alzheimer’s and dementia, both from which he was suffering at the time of his death. Mr. Bobby Glenn Tweed died at age 79 due to complications from the unneeded drugs given to him by staff at Life Care Center of Greeneville. All 3 of the medications, Depakote, Seroquel, and Geodon, are contraindicated for use in treating elderly patients with dementia.  In fact, the Food & Drug Administration requires a ‘black box warning’ on both Seroquel and Geodon notifying prescribers that the medications are harmful to patients suffering from dementia and increase their risk of death.

While the terms of the settlement are confidential, the attorneys for the family reminded the press that any time psychotropic meds are used, prior consent must be given. In this case, Mr. Tweed’s daughter should have been notified that the facility needed to use such meds and allowed her to approve or deny their use on her father. According to the suit, these drugs were given over an “extended period of time” and “such medications were being given not because Mr. Tweed needed the medication to treat his illness or to improve his quality of life but to make him a more docile, compliant and passive patient.”

Unauthorized Use of Antipsychotics Due to Multiple Factors
In a 2014 summer edition of AARP magazine, the elderly group published an investigative report that blew the lid off a sad occurrence in nursing homes across the country: Nurses and physicians using psychotropic drugs to subdue patients without mental conditions that merit such medications. The practice, referred to as chemical restraint, is an epidemic in nursing homes and long term care facilities. AARP says that after their article went to press, they were inundated with calls from family members of loved ones who had faced a situation similar to that of Mr. Tweed.

If these drugs are known to be harmful to the elderly, why are they being prescribed so frequently? According to Charlene Harrington, professor of nursing and sociology at UC San Francisco, 1 in 5 nursing home residents is given antipsychotic medications that are not needed and even extremely harmful. Experts have several theories as to why staff at nursing homes are using such powerful medications on residents who don’t meet the requirements for their use, but all of them boil down to profits. According to Toby Edelman, an attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, “The misuse of antipsychotic drugs as chemical restraints is one of the most common and long-standing, but preventable, practices causing serious harm to nursing home residents today. When nursing facilities divert funds from the care of residents to corporate overhead and profits, the human toll is enormous.”

One of the main reasons experts believe these drugs are being overused is due to constant pushing by pharmaceutical companies. Companies such as Eli Lily and Johnson & Johnson were both found guilty of (and fined for) marketing antipsychotic drugs to nursing homes, even though the FDA hadn’t approved them for use in elderly populations. Another major reason? Understaffing, under training and underpaying Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), who bear the brunt of patient care in nursing homes. CNAs in nursing homes are notoriously both undertrained and underpaid and are left caring for a high volume of patients who require more attention than they are able to give.

Overmedicating is the Easy Way Out
Regardless of the reason for improperly administering the drugs, there are clear alternatives, all of which require actions by nursing homes that fall under the standard of care. The truth is that many facilities are not willing to take these measures to ensure the safety and well being of their residents. To many nursing homes, hiring and training more staff is a less attractive option than using medications that will ease the patient care burden on their current employees while allowing them to keep staffing numbers embarrassingly low and their profits needlessly high.

The problem is not limited to Greeneville, Tennessee. We recently covered the story of 3 CNAs who were fired in Virginia after reportedly witnessing nurses on the overnight shift sedating patients and tying them to wheelchairs in order to have some peace and quiet. As AARP tells readers, the number of family members that have come forward with similar stories of abuse and neglect is shocking.

Our Illinois nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys have handled numerous cases in which loved ones have been chemically restrained for no purpose or benefit to the patient. If you have a family member that has been chemically restrained and sustained an injury, please contact our Chicago nursing home attorneys to discuss your situation and see how we can help. Consultations are free and confidential.