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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Antipsychotic Drugs can be Deadly for Nursing Home Patients

Antipsychotic drugs have become commonplace in drug and alcohol treatment facilities. While such medications are intended for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, they have shown to be effective “off-label” for other problems such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, and issues with sleeping. While these drugs may do wonders for some people, they can be deadly for others.

There has been a growing concern that older people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, may be at risk when they are sedated with antipsychotic drugs by their caregivers to make them easier to manage. Despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given these drugs a black box warning, because antipsychotics can increase the risk of heart failure, infections and death, almost 300,000 nursing home residents are still being prescribed them, NPR reports.

In 2012, the federal government launched a campaign reduce the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes. When NPR conducted an analysis of government data, they determined that the government rarely penalizes nursing homes when they fail to reduce the use of such drugs. The NPR report found that Texas is in last place when it comes to using alternatives to antipsychotics for managing nursing home patients, in fact more than a quarter of nursing home residents there still get antipsychotic drugs.

Texas recently conducted a series of training courses to educate nursing home employees about alternatives to giving residents powerful antipsychotic drugs to sedate their patients. Nursing home employees are encouraged to learn about their residents to determine why they exhibit challenging behaviors, and to find ways to manage such behaviors without using “chemical restraints.”

"I saw my fair share," said a nursing home activities director, Roxanne Stengel. She saw the drugs used as a "form of control [and] restraint" in some of her previous workplaces. 

"That's pitiful," she says. "There's got to be a better way."

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