Over-medication: A Real and Present Danger

Recently, a special report in the AARP bulletin publicized the serious life threatening effects of prescription drug abuse rampant in nursing homes all across our country.  Story after story was shared of previously independent seniors who experienced a minor setback, needed extra care, and were placed in nursing homes. In each case, within days of entering the nursing home, the client’s medications were increased while their level of independence decreased.   While this may sound sensational or out of the ordinary, according to Charlene Harrington, a professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California, San Francisco, as many as 1 in 5 patients in the nation’s 15,500 nursing homes are given anti-psychotic drugs that are not only unnecessary, but extremely dangerous, placing many seniors in real and present danger.

Why would anyone prescribe unwarranted medications to those who did not need it? The answer is found hidden behind what the U.S. Department of Justice has called “one of the largest health care fraud settlements in history”.  Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were fined more than 2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges levied against them because of their aggressive marketing of FDA unapproved anti-psychotic drugs to nursing homes.  At its root lay kickbacks to doctors and Omnicare, the nation’s largest long-term-care pharmacy.  Coupled these offenses with the repeated failure of “informed consent” and under-trained staff, and we have a compounded problem ripe for over-medication abuse.

This is yet another reason why many professional and family caregivers are advocating for in home care. When care is provided in the home setting, those who know the person are quicker to notice any changes in behavior and declines in health faster than those who do not know the person or their medical history.  With home care, the ratio of care is 1 to 1, which greatly decreases the probability of slip and fall accidents, bed sores and over-medication. While many family members are kept in the dark about the level of care their loved ones receive while in facilities, those who choose to keep their loved ones at home are fully aware of the care provided to their loved ones. That is why many personal and professional caregivers prefer in- home-care to care provided within a facility. While over-medication continues to remain a problem in many of our country’s 15,500 nursing homes, by choosing our home care options, we can help to ensure that those who most require our assistance do not end up over-medicated and forgotten.