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They Deserve Better: Overmedication in Nursing Homes

Overmedicating is a form of abuse, commonly called “chemical restraint”Overmedication, or chemical restraints, is a form of nursing home abuse

Right now, hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents are receiving powerful drugs to make them easier to care for. Using drugs for staff’s convenience is illegal, and a form of abuse. It’s called “chemical restraint” because the drugs are used to restrain residents who are more difficult to care for – usually, those with advanced dementia.

Our nursing home abuse lawyers are here to help families suffering from overmedication in nursing homes.

The most-abused type of drug are antipsychotics like Risperdal, Haldol, and Seroquel. These drugs are meant only to treat serious mental disorders like schizophrenia. In fact, the FDA has specifically added warnings to antipsychotics’ packaging, saying they can increase the risk of infections, heart failure, and death, in people with dementia.

For-Profit vs. Non-Profit

Overmedicating residents is most common in understaffed, under-resourced nursing homes. For-profit facilities are in the nursing home business to do just that: make a profit. They cut staff, keep wages low, and pocket the profits, regardless of the effect on residents' quality of life and care.

Of the 15,600 nursing homes in the country, 70% are for-profit.

Rules are currently in place to protect residents from unnecessary medications, but nursing homes actively ignore them. In late 2016, the government released new nursing facility rules. Under the new rules, antipsychotic drugs can only be given if they’re “necessary to treat a specific condition as diagnosed and documented” in their medical records.

The new rules also require a licensed pharmacist to review every resident’s drug regimen and report anything that seems off.

Tips for Families and Residents

Ask questions: closely review all the drugs your loved one is receiving. You should know why each drug was prescribed, its side effects, how your loved one responds to it, and if efforts are being made to reduce or stop using it.

Remember your right to refuse: federal law grants residents and their representatives the right to direct their own care and refuse treatments. Residents must always be told information about the drugs they're taking and they must always give their consent. They (or their representatives) can also withdraw consent at any time.

Visit as much as you can: the new rules allow residents to receive any visitor whenever they choose, without restricted hours, as long as it’s not disturbing to others. Having family members around improves attention and care, because staff knows a watchful eye is around.

Be part of the care planning process: usually, a resident is overmedicated because they’re agitated: making too much noise or too much of a fuss. Staff needs to understand that agitation means the resident is trying to communicate something. Rather than suppressing the resident with drugs, staff should identify the medical, environmental, and psychological sources of agitation, and change the residents’ care plan to address this and meet their needs.

How to Recognize Overmedication

Antipsychotics change behavior. They cause drowsiness and increase the risk of falling. Residents can go from being lively and active to being completely out of it, mumbling, slumped over, unaware of their surroundings.

Overmedicated residents often stay confined to their bed or wheelchair, putting them at risk for bedsores. They often forget to eat and drink, putting them at risk for malnutrition and dehydration.

If you suspect your loved one is being overmedicated, get in touch with our nursing home abuse lawyers as soon as possible. Even if we cannot legally represent you, we will refer you to organizations that can help. We work with the Human Rights Watch and state ombudsmen to file complaints, expose abusive nursing homes, and makes sure families are heard.