Antipsychotic drugs are administered to approximately one out of four patients in California nursing homes, according to a report by the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. In many cases, these drugs are prescribed for “off-label” uses, which means the powerful medications are not prescribed to treat schizophrenia or other conditions that the FDA has approved the drugs for, explains a California personal injury attorney. Instead, these medications are prescribed in order to make patients easier to manage and to help control the behavior of patients suffering from dementia.
The use of these antipsychotic medications as a treatment method is growing not just in California but also throughout the entire United States. For instance, in 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report indicating that approximately 14 percent of the 2.1 million individuals living in nursing homes had been prescribed an off-label or “atypical” antipsychotic drug in 2007. The same report also indicated that in 51 percent of Medicare antipsychotic drug claims, there was no record of administration of the drugs or the drugs were not used for medically accepted reasons. This means that Medicare spent an estimated $309 million on atypical psychiatric drugs.
The losses caused by the use of these drugs are not just financial. The FDA has warned that the off-label use of antipsychotics to treat dementia patients can increase the risk of mortality. According to statistics reprinted on the Consumer Voice, the potential consequences and side effects of the off-label use of these medications can increase the risk of heart attack, triple the risk of a stroke, contribute to or cause diabetes, cause fatigue, cause uncontrolled tremors that may lead to falls, cause seizures and cause the residents to lose the ability to perform basic life functions such as bathing, dressing, eating and talking to others. Because of the serious consequences, the unnecessary and atypical use of antipsychotic medications may result in the death of 15,000 nursing home patients every year.