Nursing Homes Overprescribing Drugs to Silence and Subdue Patients

Elder abuse is a disturbing reality that many seniors face, often silently and out of public view. One particularly alarming form of elder abuse taking place in nursing homes across the country is the overprescription of antipsychotic drugs and sedatives to keep residents docile and easier to manage. We’ll take a closer look at this pandemic in this article.

Add Your Heading Text Here

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

What the Research Shows

Multiple studies have shown that nursing homes frequently administer antipsychotic medications to residents even when they do not have a medically valid psychiatric diagnosis warranting such drugs. A recent government report found that 80% of seniors on Medicare were prescribed antipsychotic medication, despite only around 5% of the senior population having a diagnosis of psychosis. That’s roughly a million patients a year.

Clearly, a significant portion are being prescribed these powerful drugs inappropriately. Antipsychotics such as Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa are often used “off-label” in nursing homes as a chemical restraint to suppress agitation and unwanted behavior. Sedatives like Ativan and Valium are also used excessively to keep seniors sleepy and less prone to complain or cause trouble.

The Dangers of Overmedication

This pervasive practice of overprescribing antipsychotics and sedatives puts seniors at serious risk. Antipsychotic drugs in particular have many hazardous side effects in the elderly, including:

  • Increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. One study found seniors taking antipsychotics had a higher risk of sudden death compared to the general elderly population.
  • Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms such as tremors, muscle rigidity, and shuffling gait. These irreversible movement disorders can leave seniors severely disabled.
  • Confusion, disorientation, loss of balance and falls. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among the elderly. Sedated seniors are especially prone to losing balance and cognitive awareness.
  • Extreme sedation, unresponsiveness. Excessive doses can leave seniors in a zombie-like state, unable to interact or communicate. This infringes on their basic human dignity.
  • Blood clots and pneumonia. Immobility from sedation increases seniors’ vulnerability to dangerous clots and respiratory infections.

The FDA even put out a black box warning – their most serious type of warning – about the dangers of using antipsychotics to treat dementia-related behavior in the elderly. Yet nursing homes continue to administer these drugs inappropriately at alarming rates.

Likewise, sedatives such as Valium and Ativan can cause excessive drowsiness, breathing difficulties, poor concentration and falls. While they may keep a senior subdued, overuse puts them at risk of injury and can exacerbate cognitive decline.

Motivations Behind Overprescribing

So, why do nursing homes continue to drug seniors at such high rates? Simply put, it makes life easier for the staff. Keeping residents in a constant sedated state suppresses agitation, wandering, calling out and other difficult behaviors. It also reduces complaints and demands on caregivers.

With limited staffing at many facilities, keeping seniors docile and quiet with medication is an easy way to maintain order and lighten workloads. However, it shows an appalling lack of concern for residents’ dignity, autonomy and well-being.

Nursing home doctors also often get pressured by staff to prescribe sedatives and chemical restraints. And many physicians just comply, seeing it as simpler than taking time to investigate reasons behind a resident’s difficult behaviors.

Consulting pharmacists who oversee prescriptions play a role too, by lacking due diligence. With minimal oversight, the path of least resistance becomes dosing seniors into submission.

The Human Toll

Beyond just heightened medical risks, excessive sedation robs seniors of their vitality and human dignity in final years. Heavily drugged seniors may stare blankly for hours, rendered speechless and disconnected. Their quality of life is profoundly diminished.

Overmedicated residents get reduced opportunities to participate in activities, interact socially, and partake in therapies. Isolation and lack of stimulation only worsens their cognitive decline. Seniors under chemical restraints are relegated to just exist, not truly live.

For family members, seeing their once lively loved one turned into a passive shadow of themselves by inappropriate medications can be devastating. But voicing concerns often falls on deaf ears, with staff insisting the drugs are “for their own good.”

Recent Efforts to Curb Overmedication

After years of alarming findings on overmedication, regulators are finally taking some action to protect nursing home residents:

  • Medicare and Medicaid have instituted penalties and sanctions for facilities that overprescribe antipsychotics and sedatives. Fiscal penalties give administrators financial incentive to reassess regimens.
  • Unannounced inspections are being increased to check for inappropriate drugging, inadequate consent procedures, and failures to adequately monitor side effects. Facilities can have their licensure revoked if they are found to be non-compliant.
  • Mandatory staff education on proper prescribing and behavioral interventions provides methods beyond medications to handle challenging behaviors in dementia patients.

While a good start, continued advocacy is needed to truly stamp out the persistent issue of prescribed chemical restraints in nursing homes. Progress is being made, but the pace of change remains slow.

Reporting Overmedication and Seeking Justice

If you suspect your loved one is being overmedicated in a nursing home, report it to the facility administrator and your family physician immediately. Get unexplained medication regimens changed or halted. Consult an elder care attorney, as you may have grounds for a lawsuit if overmedication caused your loved one harm.

It is elder abuse to drug seniors unnecessarily to make them easier to deal with. Don’t let profit-driven facilities get away with jeopardizing residents’ health and infringing on their basic rights. Justice should be served.

Take Action Against Elder Abuse

Here at The Brown Firm, we are committed advocates for nursing home residents and elders. If your loved one has suffered injury, deterioration or loss of dignity due to overmedication or any form of elder abuse, contact us. We have a proven track record of taking on nursing homes and securing justice for victims and their families. Every senior deserves to live out their golden years with safety and dignity.

You can visit our offices at:

  • 7176 Hodgson Memorial Drive, Savannah, GA 31405 
  • 320 East Clayton Street, Athens, GA 30601 
  • 197 14th St. NW, Suite 200, Atlanta, GA 30318 
  • 110 Traders Cross #226, Okatie, SC 29909 

Or call now for a free consultation on (800) 529-1441.

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer Who Has Your Back?

Contact The Brown Firm

Get the Answers and Compensation You Deserve

You’ll notice the difference when you contact The Brown Firm! Our local dedicated attorneys want to help you recover and rebuild.

Schedule your free consultation by calling (800) 529-1441 or completing our simple online form.

Schedule Your Free Consultation

If you or a loved one were injured and need help, our skilled personal injury lawyers will be at your side every step of the way.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.