Too Many Nursing Homes Misuse Antipsychotic Drugs on Residents

March 23, 2018

A report released in February revealed that in an average week, more than 179,000 nursing home residents in the United States receive antipsychotic medication, even though they have no diagnoses that would justify the use of those medicines. Most of those people have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the report from Human Rights Watch. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never approved antipsychotic medicines for treating those conditions.

Antipsychotic drugs may double the risk of death in people with dementia. Yet, residents with dementia may be unable to understand the risks of antipsychotic medication, which means they cannot technically consent to – or object to –treatment.

So why would nursing homes administer a medicine that has no proven medical benefit and could potentially harm residents? Human Rights Watch contends that nursing homes use these medicines to sedate residents who have dementia, to make them easier to control.

The Link Between Prescribing and Compensation

In 2017, an investigation by CNN found that, over a four-year period, the number of Nuedexta pills prescribed in nursing homes jumped by 400 percent. Nuedexta is a medication approved for the treatment of pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a rare neurological disorder that causes fits of crying and laughing.

Uncontrollable emotion is often associated with dementia, but that doesn’t mean nursing home residents with dementia have a clinical diagnosis of PBA. According to Nuedexta prescribing information, clinical trials have not included enough people over age 65 to understand how the drug may affect older people.

Pharmaceutical companies cannot pay doctors to prescribe their medications. But they can offer “perks” – free meals and paid speaking engagements, for example. CNN found that the doctors who wrote the most Nuedexta presciptions for nursing home residents also received the most perks from Nuedexta’s manufacturer, Avanir Pharmaceuticals, and its parent company, Otsuka.

Depriving Residents of Stimulation

The Human Rights Watch report included interviews with nursing home residents and their family members, who described the effects of -antipsychotic medications. One woman said the medicine turned her mother into a “zombie,” erasing her personality. A 62-year-old woman said that she was prescribed a powerful antipsychotic without consent  and it caused her to sleep so much she didn’t know what day it was.

A director of nursing said people on antipsychotics show obvious decline and that it’s “sadder than watching someone with dementia decline.”

Psychological Toll of Improper Medication

Depression is prevalent in nursing homes. Fighting illness – whether physical and mental – is much more difficult when depression erodes one’s desire to be well or improve. Nursing homes may be making nursing home residents sicker by prescribing unnecessary medications.

The Need for Proper Training

Nursing home workers are, for the most part, underpaid and overworked. Many of them may not know how to deal with residents who have dementia, so antipsychotic medication is an easy solution – it keeps residents docile, or at least manageable. But with proper training and oversight, it’s possible to care for residents with dementia without sedating them unnecessarily.

If you have any questions about this topic or believe that a nursing home has harmed your loved one, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling (800) 529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.