Recently, many patients, their families and lawmakers have become increasingly worried that nursing home residents in Illinois and throughout the entire U.S. are being drugged unnecessarily and sometimes dangerously. To address this concern — which could be considered nursing home abuse or neglect — a new proposal from U.S. senators would limit the off-label use of antipsychotic sedatives in nursing homes.
Antipsychotics are used primarily to treat psychiatric disorders. However, a recent report, which was based on government data, indicates that more than 20 percent of U.S. nursing homes have used antipsychotics for residents without psychiatric or other mental health conditions. Nursing homes have been accused of using sedatives to calm the behaviors of dementia patients.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drugs to treat specific conditions, doctors can still prescribe the drugs for off-label uses. The reason the FDA has not approved certain antipsychotics to be sold specifically to treat elderly patients with dementia is because numerous studies have indicated that the drugs could be deadly for elderly dementia patients.
Despite these risks, many dementia patients have been given the drugs. A recent report stated that antipsychotic drugs were given to an estimated 185,000 patients in nursing homes in 2010, many of whom suffered from Alzheimer’s or other similar conditions.
Now, three senators are behind legislation that would require a patient or family member’s permission before nursing homes could administer the sedatives for off-label purposes. The new proposal could end the common use of antipsychotics in nursing homes. Long-term care facilities no longer could routinely prescribe the sedatives without first telling patients and families about the health risks involved. The proposal would also force nursing homes to offer information to patients and families about drug treatment alternatives.
In some cases, families and patients might not object to patients being treated with the sedatives, but they would at least be better informed about the risks of taking such drugs before the drugs are administered to them.
Source: Boston Globe, “Senators push for informed consent before nursing homes use antipsychotic drugs,” Kay Lazar, May 23, 2012