New Study Reveals Antipsychotic Drugs Hazardous To The Elderly In Nursing Homes

Medication Errors, Nursing Home Negligence

Antipsychotic drugs are commonly used for nursing home residents. Doctors use antipsychotic drugs to settle outbursts related to psychiatric disorders, including attention deficit disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly one in seven elderly nursing home residents (nearly all of them with dementia) are given powerful antipsychotic drugs even though the medicines increase the risk of death and often are not approved for such treatments, according to a new government study.

Here’s why this should matter to you. Antipsychotic drugs double a patient’s risk of dying from sudden heart failure and elderly patients are particularly susceptible to the drugs’ side effects. Antipsychotic drugs can affect heart rhythm, particularly in elderly patients. The higher the dose of the drug the higher the risk of sudden death. Under FDA requirements, all antipsychotic labels must contain a warning that the drugs have a heightened risk of heart failure in elderly patients. Another common side effect (if this wasn’t enough) is weight gain.

The Government Study that should make you Outraged

Despite the risk of sudden heart failure associated with antipsychotic drugs, the use of these medicines is commonplace in nursing homes today. Making things worse, more than half of the antipsychotics paid for by the federal Medicare program in the first half of 2007 were “erroneous”, the government audit found, costing taxpayers $116 million. The Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services made a strong statement against antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes: “Government, taxpayers, nursing home residents as well as their families and caregivers should be outraged….”

The Inspector General remarked that antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon, are “potentially lethal” to the patients and some drug manufacturers market these drugs “putting profits before safety”. The government’s auditors found that of the 2.1 million elderly residents of nursing homes in the first six months of 2007, 304,983 had at least one Medicare claim for an antipsychotic medicine.

Here’s the shocker: according to the audit, 83% of antipsychotic prescriptions for elderly nursing home residents were for uses not approved by federal drug regulators, and 88% were to treat residents with dementia, for whom the drugs can be lethal.

Federal rules require that any drugs that are paid for by the government are given only for uses that are approved either by the government. The government auditors found that 51%, or 726,000 of 1.4 million, claims for antipsychotic medicines did not meet this criteria and were paid for by the government improperly.

Government rules ban drugs that are used in excessive doses or duration, even when the patient has a condition for which the drug is appropriate. Government auditors found that 22%, or 317,971 of 1.4 million claims for antipsychotic medicines did not meet this standard.

In response to the audit, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stated that the inappropriate use of antipsychotics in nursing home residents is the result of drug makers’ kickbacks to nursing homes to increase prescriptions for the medicines. Omnicare, Inc., a pharmacy chain for nursing homes, paid $98 million in November, 2009 to settle claims that it received kickbacks from Johnson & Johnson and other drug makers for antipsychotic prescriptions.

What you can do to protect your Loved One in a Nursing Home

What does this mean for your loved one in a nursing home? If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, or altered mental status, such as confusion, ask the Medical Director of the nursing home whether he/she is getting antipsychotic medicines. If so, ask the Medical Director for the dosage of the medicine and the length of time your loved one has been receiving the antipsychotic medicines.

You should make sure that your loved one’s physician has done a very careful cardiovascular evaluation before prescribing antipsychotic drugs. If the antipsychotic medicines are used, the doctor should pay careful attention to using the lowest possible dose. As the dose of the drug increases, so does the risk of sudden cardiact death.

If you want more information, this is what you can do

If you have questions or want more information, I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 866-889-6882 or you can send me an e-mail at You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims at the home page of my website at