In January 2023, the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced investigations into nursing home abuse of antipsychotic medications. The decision came after a Health and Human Services (HHS) report in November 2022 revealed a drastic increase in antipsychotic medications in nursing facilities across the country.
Antipsychotics are medications most commonly prescribed to patients who need help managing their schizophrenia symptoms. The drugs may also be administered to help manage psychosis caused by bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Prescribing antipsychotics to the adult and elderly populations is common practice,” says Dr. Alex Bunch, a psychologist and marriage and family therapist with particular expertise in psychotropic medications. “However, these medications are sometimes used for off-label purposes, which may include usage for sedation.”
With sedation as the primary side effect, properly using these medications helps patients remain comfortable and keep their minds from spiraling into further psychosis. However, when taken outside the parameters of an accurate diagnosis by medical professionals, antipsychotics can have severe side effects, including indigestion issues, cardiac dysfunction, and in some cases, wrongful death.
A Tool Misused: Improper Schizophrenia Diagnoses
Nursing homes are legally required to report antipsychotic drug usage in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, some facilities are believed to be avoiding this requirement by marking residents as schizophrenic even without an official diagnosis from their medical care team.
Schizophrenia is considered an incredibly rare disorder, with only 1% of the population affected by it. In a concerning contrast, the HHS report found that 99 nursing homes claimed that 20% of their residents suffer from the disorder and were receiving medications without a corresponding diagnosis or prescription — an increase of more than 200% since 2015.
The report seems to suggest that nursing home facilities are misreporting schizophrenic symptoms to administer highly sedative drugs. In fact, the HHS found that understaffed nursing homes — and nursing homes serving predominantly lower-income residents in particular — were administering antipsychotic medications at higher rates.
Understaffing is one of the leading causes of nursing home abuse. With rising demands for long-term care, antipsychotic drug usage to manage an influx of residents may also begin to increase — leading to even more concern about nursing home abuse and neglect rates.
Nursing Home Medication Abuse and Wrongful Death
Without proper diagnosis and care when administering such important medications to nursing home residents, serious complications can occur. Many people may not know that such medication errors are considered a form of nursing home neglect.
Common symptoms of antipsychotic medication abuse include:
- Disruption in metabolic function, causing weight gain or type 2 diabetes
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
Symptoms may worsen if patients are taking multiple prescriptions that may conflict with the antipsychotics. Without an accurate diagnosis and medical supervision, residents may likely receive conflicting medications from nursing home staff.
The most concerning effect of antipsychotic medication abuse is the increased mortality risk in elderly patients. If not administered at careful dosages and with doctor oversight, patients may face disruption in cardiac function, leading to heart failure and death.
Legal Help for Victims of Nursing Home Antipsychotic Medication Abuse
These investigations into antipsychotic medication use in nursing homes are another step toward ensuring nursing home residents are receiving the care they require and deserve.
Unfortunately, nursing home residents across the nation experience abuse, neglect, and even wrongful death from antipsychotic drug usage. This malpractice frequently goes unreported, and families are left with unanswered questions while grieving their loved ones.
That is why the team of advocates at Nursing Home Abuse Center is here for you. You do not have to deal with this alone, and you may be eligible for legal assistance. Contact us today at (855) 264-6310 to get started.