According to a recent report, many nursing home residents receive antipsychotic drugs every week, even though there is usually no diagnosis to support them. Unfortunately, giving these drugs to elderly and disabled people can be a way to control them and cover up their real needs.
The FDA hasn’t approved antipsychotics for this purpose, of course. The drugs are only meant for people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. However, schizophrenia tends to strike people in their mid-20s, not their 80s.
It’s true that some doctors prescribe antipsychotics in smaller doses for people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses that older people can have. However, these drugs carry a “black box” warning from the FDA because they can increase an older person’s risk of death, especially if they have dementia.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the problem of prescribing these drugs to nursing home patients continues despite efforts to reduce it. The agency attempted to reduce antipsychotic drug use in nursing facilities. The numbers indeed went down after the effort. In 2012, the percentage of nursing home patients who were inappropriately prescribed antipsychotics was 24%; by the middle of 2019 it was down to 14.3%.
That drop appears to have been misleading, however. The data show that diagnoses of schizophrenia in nursing homes rose at the same time the misuse of the drugs fell. That suggests that some nursing homes may be falsely diagnosing patients in order to justify continuing to prescribe antipsychotics.
Citations for wrongful prescriptions of antipsychotics have actually gone down
Tragically, the enforcement of the rules against wrongful antipsychotic prescriptions is on the wane. Between 2015 and 2017, the rate of citations jumped by 200%, but since then it has dropped by at least 22%.
This was done at the same time as several other important regulations were rolled back. One of the changes, according to NPR, was to make it easier for nursing homes to prescribe antipsychotic drugs for patients.
According to a congressional study, the fines for unnecessary antipsychotic drug prescriptions are also way down, even in cases where patients were in immediate jeopardy or suffered actual harm. “Immediate jeopardy” and “actual harm” are the most serious citations, but nonetheless 10% of such citations resulted in no fines at all. Another quarter resulted in fines of less than $20,000.
What should you do if you think your loved one has been wrongly prescribed antipsychotics?
You should always take care to know what drugs your loved one has been given and why. If an antipsychotic has been prescribed, talk to the doctor who prescribed it and find out the diagnosis. If you have any concerns that your loved one may be being drugged, contact an attorney experienced in nursing home litigation to discuss your rights and options.