The Overuse of Anti-Psychotic Drugs in Nursing Homes

Many nursing homes are improperly prescribing anti-psychotic drugs to patients even though federal law restricts their use. Almost 300-000 nursing home residents are currently receiving antipsychotic drugs normally used to treat bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and that are considered dangerous for patients with dementia.

Why are these drugs being prescribed? Nursing home residents with dementia can often get agitated- anxious- or aggressive. In order to deal with these behaviors- nursing home employees may prescribe antipsychotic drugs- even though the drugs aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat symptoms of dementia. In addition- federal law prevents the use of drugs as a way to restrain nursing home residents or for the sake of staff convenience.

After a federal study found that 88 percent of prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes were being used to treat dementia- the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began a campaign to reduce use of these drugs. In two years- CMS was able to cut usage by 15 percent. However- National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported that the government is still not issuing serious fines for the misuse of antipsychotic drugs.

Before a nursing home doctor prescribes antipsychotic drugs- the doctor is supposed to get the consent of the resident or his or her representative. The resident has the right to refuse the drugs and to ask for alternative treatment. If you fear your loved one is being unlawfully prescribed antipsychotic drugs- contact your nursing home ombudsman or your attorney.

The NPR story includes an online tool that allows families to see the rate of antipsychotics use in the nursing facility in which a loved one resides.  To access it, see “Look Up Anti-Psychotic Medication Rates By Facility.”