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Antipsychotics are often overprescribed in nursing homes

In March 2014, the inspector general of Health and Human Services raised a red flag by declaring that many nursing home patients were receiving antipsychotic drugs unnecessarily, a violation of federal regulations.

If you have a loved one who is a nursing home resident, has a health care provider asked you to provide “informed consent” to administer a drug of this type?

Not a universal solution

In the nursing home environment, medications are simply part of the care a patient receives. They prevent disease, cure an illness, slow a disease process or reduce symptoms. They are not, however, a universal solution. Every patient has different needs, but nursing home professionals have to be careful not to overmedicate. Doctors prescribe antipsychotic drugs for people with serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. There must be a documented medical need for these kinds of drugs; they cannot be used as “chemical restraints” to ease the burden for an overworked nursing staff.

Informed consent

In order for a patient to receive a prescription for an antipsychotic, the law requires informed consent. If the patient is unable to provide this, a family member must do so before a medical professional can administer the drug. Unfortunately, every nursing facility does not follow the law. It is estimated that up to 300,000 patients receive antipsychotics to suppress the depression or anxiety that can accompany Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. In some cases, the nursing staff is stretched thin, caregivers may not have received sufficient training, physicians are rarely to be found onsite, and if there are “behavior problems” among patients, the easiest remedy might be to give these people antipsychotics.

Seeking help

The best course of action that concerned family members can take is to become as knowledgeable as possible about the kinds of medications prescribed to their loved one. If someone believes that a medical provider is administering antipsychotics wrongfully without the consent required by law, an attorney experienced with cases involving nursing home abuse can be of great help.