Are Nursing Home Residents Overmedicated?

Posted on December 15, 2014 by Shapiro Law Group

A federal law known colloquially as a “chemical restraint” prohibits nurses in nursing homes from medicating their residents for the sake of convenience. Medicine must be prescribed based on medical need only. However, studies showed that 300,000 nursing home residents are currently prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and not all of the nursing home residents need these types of medication.

Many nursing home residents face dementia and Alzheimer’s, both of which can cause anxiety or aggression. Some nurses medicate these mild emotional outbursts with harsh antipsychotic drugs approved only to treat serious illnesses such as schizophrenia; the use of these drugs in any other case that they are not approved for is a form of malpractice. These drugs carry a black box warning, an FDA label warning users of serious potential side effects or death; in this case, the antipsychotic drugs can lead to heart failure, infections and death.

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When one resident of Sonora, California, brought her 73-year-old mother to a nursing home nearby, it was not long before her mother started receiving medication. According to the resident, her mother was put into the nursing home because of a few falls, not due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Because she was deemed too noisy, the nursing staff started medicating her with Risperdal and Seroquel, drugs normally used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The resident attests that the drugs were having severe negative effects on her mother, shattering her ability to think and speak clearly. Her mother would sit and pray to herself for God to get her out of the home.

In situations where the patient suffers from an actual illness, medication may make sense, but the improper prescription of antipsychotic drugs used in this situation seem to violate the chemical restraint law. One pharmacy professor at the University of Southern California says that these drugs should only be used once all other options have been exhausted, and even then only for a month.

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