When the time comes for your loved ones to receive a higher level of care than what you can provide, a skilled nursing facility could become their second home. Also known as a nursing home, this type of facility allows a resident to enjoy various activities that enrich their quality of life while offering round-the-clock medical care. Sadly, not all nursing homes prioritize the comfort and safety of their residents. While overmedicating in nursing homes is sometimes unintentional, occasionally, it is a form of elder abuse.
Why Nursing Homes
In most cases, nursing homes resort to overmedication to make it easier to manage residents. One report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) revealed that many skilled nursing facilities disregard federal regulations when it comes to administering antipsychotic drugs. This type of psychotropic medication is typically prescribed to individuals with schizophrenia and can be lethal for those with dementia. Despite the increased risk of death associated with antipsychotic drugs, some nursing homes still choose profit over the welfare of residents. To make matters worse, according to another report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), not only do many nursing homes give drugs unlawfully and unnecessarily, but they also do so without consent from patients and their families.
At times, understaffing or inadequate training is the underlying factor in overmedicating in nursing homes. Caregivers are more prone to making errors when they feel overworked due to staff shortage, and they may unintentionally administer medication excessively. However, this is not always the case as staff members may also use tranquilizers, antipsychotics, and other drugs on purpose to sedate uncooperative, aggressive, or emotional residents. Caregivers are supposed to be capable of working with older adults patiently, but exhaustion, stress, or lack of training can make them rely on overmedication.
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Dangers of Overmedicating in Nursing Homes
Skilled nursing facilities often depend on sedatives, pain relievers, and psychoactive drugs to restrain or pacify residents. Caregivers who do not use medications for their intended purposes can put patients in harm’s way. Some of the side effects that nursing home residents may experience from the drugs include the following:
- Adverse drug reactions
- Falls, fractures, and other injuries following overmedication
Also, when facilities give antipsychotic drugs to patients without severe mental illness and who have dementia, they may later develop other issues. These could include anxiety, confusion, agitation, and disorientation. Moreover, a senior may soon become withdrawn, fatigued, fearful, and overall seem diminished.
Laws Regulating Medication in Facilities
To address the issue of chemical restraint or use of psychoactive drugs for convenience or to control a resident’s behavior, the government created a federal law for long-term care facilities (§ 482.104) that prohibits the unnecessary administration of such medications. Nevertheless, this has not stopped incidents of overmedicating in nursing homes, usually because of lax enforcement of the rules. There are still facilities that engage in unlawful practices and continue to violate federal regulations regarding drug use.
The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) (NHRA) also seeks to improve the quality of life for residents, protect them from abuse and neglect, and define their legal rights. Generally, the NHRA also forbids nursing homes from taking part in antipsychotic drug practices. The facility may administer antipsychotic drugs only when a physician orders it as part of the resident’s plan of care, and if an external, independent consultant periodically reviews the suitability of the plan.
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Issues with Informed Consent
Although it is against the law to administer drugs without the patient’s informed consent according to the American Medical Association (AMA), overmedicating in nursing homes still takes place with the residents or their loved ones not knowing about it. Informed consent is supposed to give patients the right to learn about any recommended medical treatment so they can make informed decisions. In reality, some nursing facilities do not exert enough effort to obtain consent from residents or their families, even when it is entirely possible to do so. As a result, a sort of forced treatment happens because of unnecessary medical intervention. It is not uncommon for families to suddenly find out that their loved ones are receiving unneeded and potentially dangerous drugs.
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What You Can Do
If you notice unusual behavioral changes in your loved one, do not hesitate to ask for a list of administered medications. You have the right to ask why the facility is giving them and how long the treatment will last. If you are not satisfied with how the nursing home is addressing your concern or you are worried about overmedication, you can report your case to an Adult Protective Services agency in your state. Additionally, you can reach out to a nursing home abuse attorney to learn more about how you can keep your loved one safe and what course of action to take.
We Stand for Victims of Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes
At Ben Crump Law, PLLC we are all too aware of the devastating effects that overmedicating in nursing homes can bring. Administering unnecessary and excessive medications is morally and legally wrong because it can lead to severe or fatal injuries. We encourage you to discuss your concerns with us so we can determine if you have grounds for legal action that will hold negligent parties accountable for their actions.
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