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Federal Investigators Find Nursing Home Residents with Dementia Prescribed Antipsychotic Drugs Despite Increased Risk of Death

An article published on the American Association for Justice website (justice.org) raised an alarming concern which is that many elderly nursing home residents with dementia are being prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs even though there is an increased risk of death with their use.

The article explains that a report was released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) showing that 88 percent of reimbursement claims submitted to Medicare for atypical antipsychotic drugs prescribed for nursing home residents during a six-month period were for residents with dementia. However, these drugs carry a warning that states they pose an increased risk of death in elderly patients with that condition.

HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson is quoted in the article as saying, “Government, taxpayers, nursing home residents, as well as their families and caregivers should be outraged–and seek solutions. It is of great concern that so many nursing home residents are prescribed these drugs in the first place.”

Steven Levin, a Chicago attorney who works on nursing home cases, made the point in the article that nursing homes often use antipsychotic drugs as a chemical restraint. Attorney Levin is quoted as saying, “Our anecdotal evidence suggests that when the resident is placed on these drugs, something bad happens. Attorneys should never ignore the role that these types of drugs might play in cases involving nursing home neglect.”

The use of antipsychotic drugs came to the attention of Congress in 2007 when FDA epidemiologist David Graham testified that as many as 15,000 nursing home residents die every year from the off-label use of these medications. A Senator from Iowa asked the OIG to investigate prescriptions of the drugs for residents with off-label conditions and dementia.

Levin recommends that attorneys representing clients injured by antipsychotic drugs should investigate whether the nursing home appropriately assessed the need for the drugs, monitored the resident’s behavior while on the medication, and discontinued it if adverse effects occurred.

The three most commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs are listed in the article as Astra Zeneca’s Seroquel, Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal, and Ely Lilly’s Zyprexa.