Feds Target Dangerous Nursing Home Drug Misuse

Too many U.S. nursing homes are using dangerously strong antipsychotic drugs to keep patients with dementia drugged, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In fact, 2010 data shows that 17 percent of nursing home patients had daily doses above recommended levels.

Claire Curry, a consumer advocate, said, “The drugging of nursing home residents has long been a national disgrace..

To help curb the misuse of drugs in nursing homes and elder care facilities, CMS announced that it’s beginning a Partnership to Improve Dementia Care, which will include efforts to eliminate drug misuse for dementia patients. Officials say they hope the program will help reduce the use of antipsychotic drugs by 15 percent before the end of 2012.

As advocates like Claire Curry point out, improper and potentially dangerous misuse of drugs is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of nursing home and long-term care patients. In the case of antipsychotic drugs, the drugs themselves even come with so-called “black box” warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, stating that the drugs can cause the death of patients with dementia.

Dr. Shari Ling, CMS deputy chief medical officer, has said that the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs among nursing home patients has grown in recent years–much of it among patients with dementia. This is particularly dangerous because, as Ling points out, dementia patients often cannot communicate their needs.

The government efforts to reduce drug misuse among elderly patients or those with dementia in nursing homes will include training for nursing home staff focused on care standards, making information about antipsychotics more available to nursing homes, and recommendations for alternatives to drugs. Those alternatives include things like outdoor activity, exercise and pain management therapy.

Whether these efforts will actually reduce improper prescriptions remains to be seen. The Food and Drug Administration has been warning doctors and caregivers against prescribing antipsychotic drugs to the elderly–especially those with dementia–since 2005. In a 2011 report, government researchers warned that improper use of the potentially dangerous drugs would probably continue, as alternative therapies and policies cost too much for many nursing homes to actually use.

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