Antipsychotic drugs are medications that must be prescribed by a physician for the treatment of a mental condition or disorder. These medications are typically used to help treat symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.

However, in nursing home settings, these drugs aren’t always used for their intended purpose. In fact, the use of antipsychotic drugs in elderly patients is dangerous at best, fatal at worst. The Federal Drug Administration warms that the use of these types of drugs in elderly patients poses an increased risk of death. There are even black box warnings on many of these drugs, warning of an increased mortality rate if used on elderly patients or those with dementia.

Medical studies have found that many of the most commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs are neither safe nor effective in older adults. So why is their use skyrocketing in nursing homes comprised almost entirely of elderly residents?

As far back as 2012, there were reports that Kentucky nursing homes were distributing more antipsychotic drugs to non-psychotic patients than the U.S. average. At the time, data showed that at least 161 of the state’s 280 nursing home facilities exceeded the national average for the distribution of these types of dangerous drugs. Some facilities had totals almost double the national average.

recent report studying the phenomenon found that a human rights watchdog group estimated that more than 298,650 individuals, or 20 percent of nursing home residents, received some form of antipsychotic medication weekly in the fourth quarter of 2019. This is compared to the only 2 percent of residents that had qualifying conditions for these types of drugs.

Why? These drugs aren’t for patients. They are for the staff members.

Antipsychotic drugs are used as a means of restraint, typically called a chemical restraint. Some nursing homes do not see the use of chemical restraints as a form of abuse: it’s not “abuse” if they aren’t physically tying down a resident, right? Wrong. Antipsychotic drugs seem to be applied en masse by nursing homes to placate residents and create docile, almost catatonic-like residents that are easy to manage and less likely to complain. These drugs may also be used to sedate residents.

Reports point to the fact that inappropriate use of these drugs is typically linked to nursing homes with lower numbers of registered nurses on staff. The speculation is that nursing homes with improper staffing levels turn to these drugs to make residents “easier” to care for and manage. Numerous reports have already linked chronic understaffing to poor quality of care. This is simply more evidence that understaffing can result in serious cases of nursing home abuse.

If you have noticed a change in your loved one’s demeanor or if they are taking medications you are unfamiliar with for conditions you are not aware of, ask questions. Their life may depend on it. If you suspect abuse of this type or any type, contact the law firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP for help. We can investigate your claims and protect your loved one’s rights. Get justice and the compensation you and your family deserve. Contact the experienced legal team at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP today.