Hazardous Antipsychotic Drugs

May 10th, 2011

The New York Times published an eye-opening article about how some antipsychotic drugs given to the elderly are dangerous, and even potentially lethal.

Nearly one in seven elderly nursing home residents, nearly all of them with dementia, are given powerful atypical antipsychotic drugs even though the medicines increase the risks of death and are not approved for such treatments, a government audit found.

More than half of the antipsychotics paid for by the federal Medicare program in the first half of 2007 were “erroneous,” the audit found, costing the program $116 million for those six months.

So…the nursing home residents are being given toxic medications, families and caregivers are duped into believing the pharmaceuticals are of more benefit than they are, and taxpayers are being fleeced to the tune of more than $225 million per year. It’s unconscionable. For some pharmaceutical companies, though, it seems to be business as usual.

Many of the toxic medications are specifically and, according to the article, illegally marketed for use by the elderly. Television commercials for the drug Abilify, for example, show a middle-aged woman taking care of her elderly mother, and talking about how she wants to do everything possible to help her mother from losing more of her memory to dementia, including giving her Abilify. Other common drugs that are potentially lethal to the elderly are Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Geodon.

Why would doctors continue to prescribe these medications? According to The New York Times:

While the Food and Drug Administration has warned doctors that using antipsychotic drugs in elderly patients with dementia increases their risks of death, doctors continue the practice because they have few other good choices, said Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, editor in chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, a medical education newsletter for psychiatrists.

“Doctors want to maximize quality of life by treating the patient’s agitation even if that means the patient will die a bit sooner,” Dr. Carlat said.

Until regulators take action based on this report, the families of nursing home residents will have to be extra vigilant about which medications their loved ones are taking. Ask for a full list of all medications, and find out why they were prescribed. If you see any of the antipsychotics on the list, ask to speak with a doctor to see if the medications are necessary, helpful, and not likely to cause harm.

At HensonFuerst Attorneys, we take our role as advocates for nursing home residents very seriously, and we will continue to protect their rights, to speak for people who have no voice. If you believe someone you know has been harmed by harmful medication, please feel free to call us at 1-800-4-LAWMED. Someone is always available—24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can also learn more on our website at http://www.lawmed.com/.

If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.