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Drug Maker Settles Charges It Promoted Antipsychotic for Dementia and Hid Dangers

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I’ve followed the controversy over using antipsychotic drugs to control the behavior of patients with dementia in nursing homes. Much of the media coverage of this has focused on the use of Risperdal, but on March 10, 37 states announced that they’ve settled a lawsuit over another antipsychotic, Seroquel (quetiapine), with manufacturer AstraZeneca. The lawsuit accuses AstraZeneca of deceptive marketing, in part because Seroquel is not FDA-approved for treating any disorder other than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and sometimes depression. Even more alarmingly, the manufacturer was accused of hiding negative results from studies on Seroquel’s safety and effectiveness, and failing to disclose side effects. It will pay $68.5 million to 37 states; seven others are still pursuing separate lawsuits. The settlement is on top of a $520 million settlement AstraZeneca paid to the federal government last year in a similar lawsuit.

Doctors may prescribe medications off-label for any purpose they wish, but manufacturers are forbidden by law from promoting them for any unapproved purpose. The lawsuit against AstraZeneca alleged that it promoted Seroquel for Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety and unapproved forms of depression. It also alleged that the company suppressed information about the potential for patients taking Seroquel to develop diabetes and high blood sugar. In the federal lawsuit, an email was made public in which one company official praised burying a negative scientific study as “a great smoke and mirrors job.” In addition to paying the states, the company also agreed in the settlement to stop providing financial incentives for off-label marketing; ask salespeople not to promote it to doctors who are unlikely to prescribe it for an approved use; and publicize any payments to doctors on a website.

This settlement is good news for patients, families and Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers like me. Misuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes is a serious and potentially widespread problem. Antipsychotics are powerful neurological drugs that carry significant side effects and interact with other drugs. In addition to diabetes and high blood sugar, Seroquel’s concerning side effects include cardiovascular problems, increased appetite, increased risk of death, increased risk of seizures and pronounced sedation. In fact, critics call use of antipsychotic drugs in dementia patients “chemical restraint” because they can leave the patients incapacitated and uncommunicative. This takes away the need for understaffed nursing homes to control dementia patients’ behavior — but it also takes away their ability to fully experience life or communicate when something is wrong. In my opinion as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, this is a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse that patients should not have to endure.

If your family has suffered a loss or an illness that you believe was caused by abuse or neglect at a nursing home, you can and should hold the home responsible. To learn more about your options and tell an experienced professional about your case, you should contact Rosenbaum & Associates today for a free, confidential consultation. You can send us an email or reach us toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7.

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