Overmedication is a Form of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Overmedication of the elderly in nursing homes

As the pharmaceutical industry continues to grow, so does the problem of overmedication in nursing homes. We often hear stories about patients being given antipsychotics indiscriminately and without their consent. Several years ago, a California care facility faced charges for giving an elderly man Haldol and Risperdal without a doctor’s orders, only to be rushed to the emergency room two weeks later with heart failure and a number of other untreated conditions such as bed sores and sepsis.

It makes you wonder about the stories we don’t hear about, and how this can only be one of many examples in which seniors’ lives are put in danger due to a reckless misuse of medication.

What is Overmedication?

Overmedication is a form of elder abuse in which a person is intentionally given excessive doses of a prescription drug or is given too many different kinds of drugs unnecessarily. As seniors get older and develop more physical and mental disabilities, there is a growing tendency in care facilities to overprescribe powerful medications, which can cause a wide range of complications and can in some cases result in death.

One common issue is the excessive use of antipsychotics and sedatives to treat elderly residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, whose illnesses make it extremely difficult for caretakers to deal with at times. While these drugs can provide a quick fix to calming an aggravated resident, to heedlessly and excessively administer them – especially when dealing with extremely potent psychotropic drugs such as Risperdal and Seroquel – can have some very worrisome consequences. An overly sedated patient may be susceptible to:

  • Dizziness and balance impairment which can lead to an increased risk of falls
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, or oversleeping from sedation – meaning they are unable to ask for help or recognize that they are developing serious complications such as bed sores or sepsis from immobility
  • Medical conditions such as heart failure, seizures, high or low blood pressure, or migraines
  • States of prolonged confusion or disorientation; detachment from friends and family members
  • Hallucinations, erratic behaviors, or unexplained changes in personality

Why is Overmedication so Prevalent in Nursing Homes?

As is the case with many private nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the root of the problem can usually be traced back to profits. One way for nursing homes to cut costs is to reduce its highest expense – its staff – and one way for an understaffed facility to control its overwhelming amount of residents is through the use of overmedication. It’s not a good system.

Understaffing is a widespread issue across all types of long-term care facilities, and it often leads to a cutting-corners type of mentality that is outright abusive and neglectful to its residents. An overworked and stressed out staff will too often turn to the use of sedatives, tranquilizers, or psychotropic drugs to “calm” their patients, but what they’re really doing is lightening their workload by putting them to sleep throughout the day or making them more compliant to their instructions.

Common Examples of Overmedication

Overmedication is a dangerous “solution” to dealing with the daily complications that patients with dementia, mental health issues, ongoing illnesses, and weakened immune systems may experience. Some examples of harmful overmedication practices can include:

  • Administering drugs without first checking how they will interact with the patient’s other medications
  • Giving patients medication without a prescription or a doctor’s order
  • Failing to or making no effort to obtain meaningful, informed consent from the individual or a health proxy before administering the medications
  • Giving patients medication(s) for a mental illness which they were not properly evaluated for upon admittance

Overmedication is Against the Law

More often than not, what a nursing home patient needs is simply a trained staff that is proficient in psychiatric treatment and therapy, not excessive amounts of pills that are flippantly handed out under the guise of suppressing anxiety, taming troublesome behavior, or in some cases, as a form of punishment. Not only is this unethical, it is illegal.

Under California’s Penal Code 368, elders (65 or older) and dependent adults are protected from overmedication, which is considered a form of elder abuse when it includes chemical restraint, a type of physical abuse. “Chemical restraint” defined by the California Code of Regulations (“CCR”), Title 22, § 72018 as:

A drug used to control behavior and which is used in a manner not required to treat the patient’s medical symptoms. The concept of “chemical restraint” encompasses the use of psychotherapeutic medications for various reasons, including the staff’s convenience, discipline, retaliation, or punishment.

Taking Action Against Overmedication in Care Facilities

If you suspect that you or a loved one is being overmedicated in a care facility, it’s important to take action immediately. If the victim is in danger, call 911 or visit this website to speak with a specialist and explore helpful resources about the risks of overmedication.

This type of behavior must not only be reported but also corrected. Our elder abuse lawyers at Berberian Ain will work tirelessly to pursue justice on behalf of any victims of overmedication or chemical restraint. We are passionate about standing up for the rights of the elderly who suffer at the hands of those charged with their care. Contact Berberian Ain LLP or call 818-808-0048 today to schedule a free initial consultation with our lawyers..