Federal data show that roughly 185,000 nursing home residents in the United States received antipsychotics in 2010 contrary to federal nursing home regulators’ recommendations.
The drugs, which are intended to treat severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, can leave people in a stupor. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued black-box warnings – the agency’s most serious medication alert – about potentially fatal side effects when antipsychotics are taken by patients with dementia.
Nursing home regulators have for years collected data about individual homes’ use of antipsychotics but have not publicly released facility-specific information, citing patient privacy concerns. The government finally provided the data to the Boston Globe, 19 months after the newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.
The data show that in more than one in five nursing homes in the United States, antipsychotics are administered to a significant percentage of residents despite the fact that they do not have a psychosis or related condition that nursing home regulators say warrants their use.
Physicians have wide latitude to prescribe drugs, even for purposes not approved by the FDA or recommended by the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says California Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect mLawyer Steven Peck.
Still, both agencies say it’s not appropriate in most cases for patients suffering from dementia to be prescribed antipsychotics. The medications increase the risk of lethal infections and cardiovascular complications in these elderly patients, the FDA says. In addition, the drugs can cause dizziness, a sudden drop in blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, blurred vision, and urinary problems.
“We have an inordinate amount of prescriptions written for a population that is already frail, and we know these drugs increase the risk for side effects, including death,” Says Peck.
Nursing home administrators counter that they sometimes must use antipsychotics to keep aggressive residents from harming themselves, other residents, or staff – the fog of dementia can cause people to punch, kick, or shove others.
The administrators say the government data exaggerate the problem of antipsychotic abuse because the numbers include patients on low doses that facilities are trying to wean off the medications.
About the Author
Attorney Adam Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.