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How Nursing Homes Abuse Prescription Drugs to Control Residents

Thu 17 Aug, 2023 / by / Nursing Home Injury

Those with loved ones in nursing homes rightfully assume that their family members are getting the best care in the nursing home. This includes treatment of their physical and mental health. Families simply assume that their loved ones are only on medications that are entirely necessary.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Nursing homes often put residents on medications for the sole purpose of making them easier to control. This has been a growing problem for the last few decades. Aside from being placed on medications that they do not need to take, these residents can suffer health and behavioral complications as a result of taking these medications.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it is critical that you are aware of this phenomenon, know what medications are commonly given to nursing home residents to control their behavior, and identify the signs of chemical restraint.

Why Would a Nursing Home Give My Loved One Medication That They Do Not Need?

Put bluntly, the purpose of giving medication to a resident who does not need it is to make the staff’s job easier. This is a form of nursing home abuse. It is true that some nursing home residents can have challenging behaviors, especially if those residents are suffering from cognitive issues. It is also true that some residents require treatment with antipsychotics or other mood-altering medications if they are suffering from psychosis. What is wrong is when these mood-altering drugs are given to nursing home residents for the purpose of calming them down so that it is easier for staff to work with them.

What Sorts of Drugs Are Being Given Out To Nursing Home Residents?

Nursing homes will often give residents medications developed to treat individuals with mental health conditions. This includes antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, sedatives, and antipsychotics. Antipsychotics, in particular, have been used by nursing home staff to control residents.

Here are some of the most common antipsychotic drugs that are used:

  • Zyprexa
  • Risperdal
  • Seroquel
  • Geodon
  • Haldol
  • Abilify
  • Clozaril 

How Do These Drugs Work?

Antipsychotics and other mood-altering substances work by altering the brain chemistry and changing how the brain uses neurotransmitters. Those who have psychosis–that is, a loss of contact with reality–will often be treated with antipsychotics. The drugs work by calming them down.

What Happens if My Loved One Is Not Suffering From Psychosis?

Nursing home residents who take antipsychotic drugs but are not suffering from psychosis can suffer significant health issues. Some of these health issues include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiac Issues
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Wandering
  • Falls 
  • Loss of strength
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle disorders
  • Low blood pressure

Residents can also suffer from being drowsy and out of it. They can become more agitated from receiving the medication, prompting the nursing home to administer another medication to treat the aggravation. Receiving these medications can radically alter their mood and personality. Previously sociable individuals may become incredibly withdrawn. 

Additionally, the longer the resident is on these, the more dependent they may become on the medication. Even if they did not need the medication before, it can be harder for the resident to function without the medication. This can result in significant functional decline.

How Can I Protect My Loved One From Chemical Restraint?

Knowledge is power. Medications cannot be administered without getting informed consent from the family. Thus, it is your responsibility to know what medications your loved one is on.

Stay vigilant. Figure out what medications your loved one is on. Ask to see the list of medications. Even if your loved one is receiving an antipsychotic, they may be unaware that what they are taking is not simply a vitamin or other prescribed medication.

Furthermore, figure out for yourself what these medications do. Do not simply rely on the nursing home to tell you why your loved one is on a particular medication. You do not need to be a pharmacist to understand what the medications can do. Simply do an internet search of the name of the medication to find out what sort of ailments it cures and why it is prescribed.

If you find that your loved one is on an antipsychotic, ask for the diagnosis of psychosis. Speak to the psychiatrist who evaluated your loved one and ask to see the report.

When a nursing home is suggesting that your loved one be placed on a new medication, do not agree to it without understanding what the medication does and why it is being administered. Ask what the risks of the medication are. Figure out if this will be administered temporarily or if it will be given long-term. 

Finally, if the medication is having adverse effects on your loved one, speak up.

What Questions Can I Ask My Loved One’s Nursing Home Facility?

The ideal time to identify whether a nursing home is involved in chemical restraint is before you place your loved one there. This requires caregivers to know the sorts of questions that they should ask prospective nursing homes and to ask them. Here are some questions that you can ask:

  1. What percentage of residents at this nursing home are currently on antipsychotics?
  2. Are there any efforts at the nursing home to reduce the use of antipsychotic medications?
  3. What does the nursing home do if a resident has dementia? Are these residents given antipsychotics right off the bat, or are there non-medication approaches that are tried at the beginning?
  4. Of the residents who have dementia, how many of them are on an antipsychotic?

Contact an Experienced Nursing Home Injury Attorney

Chemical restraint in nursing homes is unfortunately a common occurrence in Illinois nursing homes, which have been ranked among the worst. If your loved one has suffered in a nursing home by being placed on medications that they do not need to take, contact an experienced nursing home injury attorney. They will review your case and let you know the best course of action to help your loved one.