The New York Times recently published an article about antipsychotic drug abuse in nursing homes. It’s not a new problem, but it is a horrifying one. Nursing home residents may be prescribed antipsychotic drugs to act as “chemical straitjackets.” Antipsychotics may calm patients down, but they can also “[nearly double] their chance of death from heart problems, infections, falls and other ailments. But understaffed nursing homes have often used the sedatives so they don’t have to hire more staff to handle residents.”
If your loved one is in a nursing home, pay attention to their prescriptions and diagnoses. If they have a new schizophrenia diagnosis, they may be the victim of antipsychotic abuse.
An Increase in Schizophrenia Diagnoses
While schizophrenia usually occurs at a rate of one in 150 people, the Times reports that one in nine nursing home residents has been diagnosed. The problem is, schizophrenia is rarely diagnosed after age 40. While it’s true that nursing homes may be a last resort, when families can’t care for a person and there are no psychiatric hospitals available, it doesn’t add up. In fact, “nearly one-third of long-term nursing home residents with schizophrenia diagnoses in 2018 had no Medicare record of being treated for the condition.” About 21 percent of nursing home residents are on antipsychotics.
These numbers are troubling—especially when you consider the likely reason behind the excessive prescriptions.
One problem nursing homes face is understaffing. Workers are notoriously overworked and underpaid. They often have more patients than they can reasonably handle. Benefits may be inadequate or nonexistent. As a result, nursing homes have a difficult time retaining enough competent staff.
Investigators and experts believe that overprescribing antipsychotics is a way to make their workload more tolerable. When patients struggle with behavioral issues, they require more attention and time. Diagnosing them with schizophrenia and prescribing antipsychotics is a way to calm them down.
Aside from the moral and ethical issues with antipsychotic abuse, it also increases a patient’s chance of death almost twofold. This happens in all types of nursing homes, including those with five-star ratings.
Despite the fact that “President Ronald Reagan signed a law banning the use of drugs that serve the interest of the nursing home or its staff, not the patient,” the practice continues. If you suspect your loved one is a victim of nursing home antipsychotic abuse, call Dworken & Bernstein as soon as possible.