It is an unfortunate fact that for many older Americans, the process of aging can come with conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Both of these diseases are marked by mental decline, but they are not psychotic conditions like schizophrenia or other kinds of psychiatric disorders. Still, nursing homes are prescribing antipsychotic drugs to elderly patients with these conditions. One of these anti-psychotic drugs is Risperdal, but the FDA has issued a black box warning regarding the drug and use in the elderly with dementia. KHOU reports on the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes.
Jessie Stagner was in otherwise good health when she began showing signs of dementia at the age of 96. It was because of this condition that she went to live in an Austin nursing home where the doctor prescribed Risperdal.
The drug caused Stagner’s further decline. She could no longer walk without being supported. Eventually, she fell and broke her hip. That was the beginning of Stagner’s final decline, according to her son.
The United States Food and Drug Administration never approved Risperdal for the treatment of dementia symptoms. In fact, the FDA required a black box warning – the strongest warning they give – requiring Risperdal to indicated that it is linked to “increased risk of death among elderly dementia patients.”
Despite this, Stagner’s nursing home continues to use the drug for dementia patients. According to their own records, some 25% of their residents are prescribed Risperdal for conditions that are not approved by the FDA.
In fact, several lawsuits and court records indicate that despite not being approved to treat dementia, Johnson & Johnson created sales forces whose specific jobs were to target elderly dementia patients. Between 1990 and 2004, the company’s sales team made sales calls to doctors to promote the drug as “effective and safe” for treating behavioral problems in seniors with dementia.
Johnson & Johnson’s own marketing research indicates that as much as 75% of prescriptions for Risperdal were for “off-label” use.
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