The statistics are scary, the stories horrifying.
Antipsychotic medications, intended to treat mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, continue to be prescribed off-label to nursing home residents with no mental-health diagnosis – sometimes with fatal results. A recent investigation by the Gotham Gazette found the practice to be especially prevalent in New York nursing homes.
Administering the medicines can help nursing home staff control agitated or restless patients, observers say.
While the problem of antipsychotic abuse in nursing homes has been recognized for decades, increasing evidence shows it’s widespread and continuing.
Nationwide, more than one in five nursing home residents are given the antipsychotic medications, according to a new study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied pharmacy data from 48 states, and the information included drugs taken by half of all nursing home residents in the US.
NYC a Hotbed of Abusive Drugging
New York City may have more than its fair share of antipsychotic drug abuse, according to an in-depth investigative report posted in the Gotham Gazette. About one in four of New York City’s more than 40,000 nursing home residents are on the meds, according to the Gazette, citing 2011 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The Gotham report includes heart-breaking real-life stories. An older auto-shop owner with dementia was given antipsychotics in a New York nursing home, despite FDA warnings that the medicines boost the risk of death in dementia patients.
The 78-year-old developed bedsores, which a medical expert linked to the antipsychotics; he then developed a fatal bloodstream infection from the bedsores.
You can read the Gotham report, “Investigation: How NYC Nursing Homes Drug Seniors Into Submission,” by clicking here.
In the JAMA study, the researchers evaluated 1.4 million nursing home residents nationwide, finding that more than 308,000 had been given at least one prescription for an antipsychotic.
The top three? Quietiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal) and Olanzapine (Zyprexa).
Efforts to stop the problem are ongoing, with the FDA and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services involved.
Among the most vocal in attempts to put an end to the unnecessary administration of antipsychotics is the Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. The organization is actively pursuing federal legislation to stop the problem, says Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy.
The Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care site includes an antipsychotic drug ”tool kit” (click here to access it). The kit helps site visitors learn about the issue, follow legislation and take action.
How Can You Take Action?
We asked Grant what seniors and others can do to help stem the tide of abusive drug practices? “We would urge people to join our [free] action network,” Grant told Senior Planet. From the home page, click the green box that says “Sign up for the Consumer Voice Action Network.”
“As we work on issues and need grassroots support, we make it easy for people to send a message to their congressman,” she says. “We will keep you up to date when action is needed.”
On a personal level, Grant says, families can ask the administrators of their loved one’s nursing home for a care plan conference. Ask: Why was this medicine prescribed? Have you tried an alternative?
Do you know anyone who has been prescribed antipsychotics unnecessarily? Tell us in the comments section below.