Almost 90 percent of older adults take at least one prescription drug, nearly 80 percent take at least two, and over one-third regularly take five or more. These numbers do not include supplements and over-the-counter drugs, which they may take as needed with their prescribed medications.
With an average nursing home maximum occupancy of 107 beds and nearly eight in 10 occupied, that adds up to a substantial amount of medication for nursing home staff to manage. An article in Today’s Geriatric Medicine states that approximately 17 percent of these medications go unused for various reasons, such as:
- Resolution of the resident’s medical issue.
- Adverse effects experienced by the resident.
- The resident transfers to a hospital or dies.
- The medication does not work for the resident.
- The medication expires before the resident can use it.
Despite the challenges associated with maintaining pharmaceuticals, residents should never receive expired medication in nursing homes. If the staff fails to monitor the dates on the bottles and dispose of those that reached their expiration date, serious consequences can result.
Proper Disposal of Expired Medication in Nursing Homes
Nursing home staff must ensure they dispose of unused medications properly—including those that have expired—to ensure residents’ safety. Although it may seem harmless to neglect taking regular inventory of drugs, failure to dispose of extra medications correctly or at all can increase the risk of:
- Accidental poisoning
- Unintended overdoses
- Drug diversion
- Citations or fines
Facilities must take steps to avoid preventable illness, injuries, and illegal activity by maintaining an organized system for storing and administering residents’ medications. When not in use, disposal of drugs, especially controlled substances, should occur immediately. Even if a patient still takes a medication that reached its expiration date, the facility has an obligation to dispose of and replace the product before providing it to the resident.
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Dangers of Taking Expired Medications
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency began requiring an expiration date on over-the-counter and prescription drugs in 1979 as a way to inform consumers of their safety. However, some heed the warning as more precautionary than imminent. They assume that an expired drug may have just decreased in strength. While expired medications have less potency over time, that does not mean that they remain safe.
The FDA explains that expired medications may also undergo a change in chemical composition, allowing for bacterial growth. Additionally, particular drugs may present a risk when used at lower strengths, such as when they expire. For example, antibiotics may not prove as effective, which could contribute to antibiotic resistance and require further treatment for the underlying illness.
Recommended Disposal Methods for Expired Medications in Nursing Homes
Some nursing home staff may not dispose of old medications because they do not know the appropriate methods to do so. The FDA provides detailed information on where and how to get rid of unused drugs of any kind depending on the available resources. Except for needles and syringes, local drug takeback sites can handle the disposal of any medication.
If a facility cannot participate in a drug takeback program, the FDA lists drugs that staff can safely flush. They can dispose of medications absent from that list in a regular garbage can by mixing them with an unsavory substance such as dirt or coffee grounds, sealing them in a plastic bag, and throwing them away.
Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
An article in the Journal of Intensive and Critical Care Nursing found that, in a sample of 52 nursing homes across the United States, medication errors occurred over 12 percent of the time. In a more focused study in Quality and Safety in Health Care, researchers evaluated 25 nursing homes in North Carolina to determine the prevalence and cause of medication errors in nursing homes. They found that nearly all the sites reported errors in medication administration, which included:
- Wrong resident
- Wrong product
- Wrong strength
Studies like these emphasize the importance of the proper disposal of unused and expired medication in nursing homes.
Legal Protections of Nursing Home Residents
The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987 outlines the legal protections of nursing home residents, including their rights to freedom from mistreatment of any kind, accommodation of their medical needs, participation in their care plan, and receiving treatment with dignity. When nursing home staff provides residents with expired medication, their actions might constitute abuse, and the victim or their family could qualify for financial awards.
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A Lawyer Can Help You with Your Case
When you choose a nursing home for a family member, you expect that the staff will provide the quality treatment they deserve and have a legal right to receive. If you suspect that a facility has provided your loved one with expired medication or made another type of medication error, Ben Crump Law, PLLC, can help you seek justice and compensation for their injuries. Call us today at (800) 959-1444 to speak with our legal team about your free case evaluation.