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Overmedication Growing More Common in Nursing Homes

Overmedication is a growing problem in Florida nursing homes. In fact, according to a report from the New York Times, 71 percent of Medicaid nursing home residents in Florida are receiving anti-depressant or anti-psychotic drugs. This is alarming when you consider that most of these patients were not taking these types of drugs before entering a nursing home. Unfortunately, it is our experience that nursing homes in Jacksonville mirror this statewide trend.

On a national level, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that more than seventeen percent of all nursing home residents are administered antipsychotic medications that exceed the recommended daily dosage levels. Even more disturbing is the fact that in 2010, close to forty percent of the nursing home residents that were given anti-psychotic drugs were not diagnosed with any type of psychosis.

Unlike bedsores or malnutrition, overmedication is not always visibly apparent. Because it is not easy to detect, it often goes unreported. Also referred to as “chemical restraints,” intentionally overmedicating a nursing home patient can lead to many other problems, such as falling, confusion, fatigue and an overall decline in health.

Confusion and lethargy make it difficult for nursing home residents to successfully perform rehabilitation exercises to regain their strength and muscle mass, increasing their risk for injury. Deconditioning coupled with a resident being overmedicated is a recipe for nursing home falls. With falls being the most common cause of nursing home injuries, overmedication presents a serious safety issue.

For nursing home residents with dementia, antipsychotic drugs can present serious issues, including loss of independence, over-sedation, confusion, increased respiratory infections, falls, and strokes. Some antipsychotics are so strong, nursing home patients become unresponsive. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration places warnings on antipsychotics stating that residents with dementia are at an increased risk of death from these types of drugs.

Other drugs, such as pain killers or sedatives can also be used excessively, especially in an understaffed nursing home. Sometimes it is easier and quicker to calm a patient down with a drug than taking the time to find out the underlying causes.

The problem of overmedication in nursing homes was addressed more than 25 years ago with the passage of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, which provides that all patients must be screened for mental health issues upon entering a nursing home. The law also encourages trying non-pharmacological treatments for mental illness. However, in many states, residents who are admitted directly from hospitals are exempt from this law.

So how can you tell if your loved one is being overmedicated in a nursing home? Here are some common signs:
– sudden confusion
– hallucination – increased fatigue – becoming more withdrawn, even with family members – erratic changes in personality
If you suspect overmedication, bring your concerns to the facility’s director of nursing. Also nursing homes are required to hold “care plan” meetings to assess each patient’s needs and medications. Ask to be included in these meetings so you are aware of changes in drug regimens.

Written by Elizabeth Allen
If you suspect neglect or abuse in a Jacksonville, Florida, area nursing home, contact our Jacksonville nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers. We will be happy to provide you with a free consultation to evaluate your potential case. You will not be charged unless our firm successfully secures an award on your behalf.