If you ask government inspectors, the answer is a resounding— YES.
Today, physciatric drugs– and anti-psychotic drugs in particular– are prescribed to an astounding 14% of all nursing home patients. The bulk of the psychiatric drugs are administered to patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s in order to calm their potentially aggressive behaviors.
Despite the prevalence of this practice, anti-psychotic drugs such as AstraZeneca’s Seroquel and Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa have been associated with an increased mortality rate in seniors. Other documented side-effects include: elevated blood sugar levels, increased cholesterol and weight gain.
Even with their dangers, doctors can legally prescribe anti-psychotic medications for off label use. What is not legal, however, is for drug companies to actively promote the off label uses of their drugs when they have not been cleared by the FDA.
This controversial— but widespread issue– took front and center when an inspector from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told a Senate Committee on Aging about how widespread the practice of prescribing psychiatric drugs for off label use has become in the nursing home industry.
As a solution to this prevalent issues, HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson suggested that Medicare should stop reimbursing nursing homes for expenses related to inappropriate off-drug use. Further, if nursing homes continue the dangerous practice, Levinson suggested that the offending facilities get removed from the Medicare program altogether.
As a lawyer who has seen how these powerful psychiatric drugs can adversely impact nursing home patients, I urge lawmakers to consider Mr. Levinson’s proposal. In addition, I would hope that the FDA take the regulation of this class of drugs one step further and simply ban the practice of prescribing anti-psychotic medications for dementia patients.
Read more about this topic in the Washington Post article “Gov’t inspector says penalties needed to curb use of psychiatric drugs in nursing homes” here.
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