New Study Finds Antipsychotic Drugs Still Overused in Nursing Homes

A recent review of nursing home data reveals that despite initiatives to reduce their use, the number of nursing home residents on antipsychotic drugs remains high in 2018. The Long-Term Care Community Coalition found that 20% of residents are taking an antipsychotic medication, even though the conditions the drugs are intended to treat are present in only 2% of these residents.

A Decades Old Argument 

Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes given to patients off-label to calm behaviors associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. These medications make patients easier to handle, and have been known to be used without the patient’s physician or family’s knowledge or consent, a dangerous tactic given that off-label use of these drugs have been known to cause sudden death. This practice, officially known as chemical restraint, is not new. Since at least the mid-80s, consumer interest groups have pushed to curtail the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing home residents with dementia.

In 2014, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services partnered with the American Health Care Association to reduce the number of elderly nursing home residents taking antipsychotics. The goal was a 30% reduction by December 2016, something the group says they achieved 7 months ahead of schedule. While the reduction is impressive, the off-label use of antipsychotics is still a problem.

In 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented Congress with the findings of their investigation into the abuse of these drugs in nursing homes. They reported that 33% of Medicare Part D recipients with dementia in a nursing home were prescribed antipsychotics. CMS decided to conduct their own study, finding the exact same results as the GAO investigation.

Black Box Warnings Required Due to Increased Risk of Death
If initiatives aimed at reducing the use of antipyschotic drugs in the elderly continue to work, our loved ones will certainly be better off. A review in the The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association last summer estimates that 90% of those with dementia will have at least one episode of disruptive behavior (shouting, crying, becoming verbally or physically aggressive). Nursing homes should not be medicating residents with dementia to prevent this behavior. The problem with doing so, beyond the fact that they unnecessarily sedate patients, is that these drugs are known to cause sudden death in elderly patients. The risk is real. So real that the FDA requires a ‘black box’ warning to be placed on all antipsychotics noting this. Some medical experts have defended the use of antipsychotic drugs in certain rare circumstances,  specifically as a last resort in those patients who display behavior so aggressive that it physically threatens family members or employees.

If someone you love is being given, or has been given, antipsychotic drugs and has been injured as a result, please contact the Chicago nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys of Levin & Perconti. For nearly 3 decades we have successfully defended the rights of the elderly against nursing homes that feel drugging a resident to make their job easier is allowed. Let us help you and your loved one get the justice you deserve. Call us now (312) 332-2872 or complete our online case evaluation form for a free consultation with one of our nursing home abuse attorneys.

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