As Philadelphia nursing home neglect lawyers, we were very interested in a new study published in the Jan. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Worcester found that in 2007, a disproportionately large proportion of nursing home patients received a drug from a class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics. These drugs are indicated for mental illnesses like schizophrenia, but have several side effects serious enough that their use is now heavily restricted by the FDA. In particular, a 2005 safety labeling change warned that atypical antipsychotics may raise the risk of death in older people with dementia.
No drug is currently approved for controlling difficult behavior in patients with dementia, but atypical antipsychotics are widely used off-label for this purpose. This is despite the 2005 safety warning and the increased risk of stroke, diabetes, hyperglycemia and other side effects. Nonetheless, the study found that about a third of all nursing home patients in 2007 received the drugs. And one third of those patients had no diagnosis of mental illness or dementia. The scientists also found that patients were more likely to receive atypical antipsychotics after entering a nursing home that already had high prescribing rates. This may indicate a problem with “organizational culture,” the authors wrote, and more studies should examine whether the practice has negative health consequences.
This is disturbing news, because it suggests that some nursing homes may be using dangerous, powerful drugs unnecessarily. The risks of atypical antipsychotics are so serious that another recent study found a 19% drop in prescriptions after the 2005 safety warning. Nursing homes who put their patients at risk of death or disability for no good medical reason are committing a form of nursing home abuse.
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