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Antipsychotics being overprescribed in nursing homes is a national problem

Doctor hands over a package of pills to a patient with psychosis

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AARP reports that overprescription of antipsychotics in America’s nursing homes is a national problem. Toby Edelman is an attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy. Edelman says nursing home personnel are using these powerful drugs with severe side effects as chemical restraints to lower the costs of providing care to residents.

Chronic understaffing

Charlene Harrington is a professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California. Harrington estimates that one in five nursing home patients are given antipsychotics for no justifiable reason other than to reduce the labor costs of caring for nursing home residents. There are more than 15,500 nursing homes across the country. The facilities are often understaffed and the overworked employees are not properly trained in caring for residents. Many nursing home patients need a high level of care. Approximately 60 to 70 percent have some level of dementia. Nursing homes should have at least one CNA for every seven residents. Despite the fact that facilities dispense extremely high volumes of medications, there are seldom ever any doctors on the premises. A nursing home abuse lawyer for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform says most doctors do not want to practice medicine in nursing homes because the facilities have a low rate of Medicare reimbursement.

Aggressive pharmaceutical companies

A major factor in the problem of unnecessarily prescribed antipsychotics is pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketing drugs to nursing home owners. The pharmaceutical companies know the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the drugs as being safe for use in the general elderly population. The antipsychotic drugs often have serious side effects like sleeplessness and anxiety. Nursing home residents are then prescribed more medications to counter the side effects. All this is often done without the federally mandated “informed consent” of patients. If nursing home residents are unable to provide informed consent, nursing homes are required by law to obtain it from a family member. Advocates for the elderly say nursing homes are failing to follow the law and doing so at the expense of the physical and mental well-being of nursing home residents.

An unlawful and dangerous national epidemic

The inspector general of Health and Human Services said one-third of Medicare patients in nursing homes experience preventable harm because “too many nursing homes fail to comply with federal regulations designed to prevent overmedication.” He went on to say “Taxpayers, nursing home residents, their families, and caregivers, should be outraged — and seek solutions.”

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