Regulators Describe Overprescribing of Antipsychotics in Nursing Homes a “Crisis”

Government regulators and lawmakers appear finally ready to do something about the widespread use of antipsychotics at nursing homes. These powerful drugs are often prescribed to residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia by nursing homes hoping to sedate them. Not only are these drugs not an approved treatment for these conditions, but antipsychotic drugs also have a range of serious side effects and drug interactions. In the elderly, antipsychotic medications substantially increase the risk of falls. Sadly, the practice of prescribing dangerous, unnecessary antipsychotic medication is widespread in the nursing home industry. The federal government reports that approximately 16 percent of nursing home residents take antipsychotics.

Thankfully, the government appears ready to tackle widespread nursing home abuse. In a letter to US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the government agency responsible for regulating nursing homes, Rep. Richard Neil excoriates the nursing home industry’s illegal prescribing habits and the government agency for inadequate enforcement. Rep. Neil described instances of nursing homes who “falsified diagnosis” and failed to attain informed consent, all for the purpose of sedating a patient with unnecessary antipsychotics. The Democrat then sharply criticized CMS saying that “nursing facilities are getting away with this practice.” According to Rep. Neil, nursing homes are “neither being cited nor penalized.”

Responding to the criticism, the federal agency pointed to data showing antipsychotic prescriptions declining in the last decade. According to government data, the number of nursing home residents on antipsychotics dropped from 24 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2017. Still, CMS concedes the number is inappropriately high and said it plans to increase enforcement against offending nursing homes. The federal agency did not provide any details on how it planned to hold nursing homes more accountable in the future.

For more information on antipsychotic drugs and nursing homes, see “They Want Docile: How Nursing Homes in the US Overmedicate People with Dementia.” This informative report by Human Rights Watch details the harmful and widespread practice of prescribing unnecessary antipsychotics in the nursing home industry. Hopefully, with the increased attention of legislators, this harmful practice will finally end.

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