Atlanta Elder & Nursing Home Abuse Law Firm
Nursing homes have a wide discretion in administering drugs to their residents. Some of the most potent drugs are psychotropic medications, or medications that affect a patient’s state of mind. These medications have beneficial effects, but also enormous potential for abuse. Unfortunately, nursing home staff do not always make good decisions when administering them. This can be devastating for the elders under their care.
Psychotropic drugs include a wide range of medications, including:
- Antipsychotic medications
- Any drug that alters mood
If your loved one suffered from a nursing home overusing these drugs, you need to speak to a Georgia elder abuse lawyer. The attorneys of John Foy & Associates are among the most experienced elder abuse lawyers in the state. Call us at 404-400-4000 and get a free consultation on your case today.
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Why are psychotropic medications used in nursing homes?
There are many legitimate uses of psychotropic medications. In the context of a nursing home, they are often used to treat episodic events like seizures. When an elderly resident experiences a seizure, administering a psychotropic drug can be an effective way to end the episode and protect them from hurting themselves.
Psychotropic medications are also used to battle mental disorders. For example, if a nursing home patient with a mental disorder flies into a highly aggressive outburst, it may make sense to administer a sedative. The sedative calms them down and protects the patient, the staff and the other patients.
In some cases, psychotropic drugs are used on a continual basis. This is usually for the ongoing management of a psychiatric condition and it will typically involve a much lower dose of the medication. This sort of treatment can be very uncomfortable for the patient. It often involves a long period of adjusting the dosage until doctors “get it right.” The end goal should be helping the patient manage their condition, not simply sedating them. An ongoing psychotropic treatment should only happen when there’s a a diagnosis by a physician or psychiatrist, and should be monitored closely by care staff.
How are psychotropic medications misused in elder care?
Tragically, psychotropic medications are widely misused and overused. More than half of nursing home residents have a form of dementia, and over 25% receive some form of antipsychotic medication. Staff who administer the medicine do not always have a clear clinical goal in mind—or even the patient’s wellbeing.
One major cause for psychotropic overuse is the desire to “restrain” residents. When a resident has dementia, they can be hard to care for. They may get irritable, forgetful or refuse to follow directions. Ideally, nursing home staff should be patient and compassionate and view this behavior as part of their care work. But all too often, staff see this behavior as troublesome. They find it easier to keep patients restrained with drugs, so that they cannot complain, refuse directions or interfere. This is not an acceptable use of psychotropic drugs.
The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 mandates that psychotropic drugs can only be used to restrain residents when it ensures the physical safety of all involved. They are not to be used simply for the convenience of staff. When staff choose to use drugs as restraints, without a clear risk of physical harm, they are breaking the law. They’re also putting their own patients’ safety at risk.
What are effects of overusing psychotropic medications?
There are many risks involved in overusing psychotropic drugs:
- Side effects. Psychotropic medications have side effects, sometimes severe ones. These medicines can take a toll on the health of a senior, especially when administered in high doses without proper monitoring.
- Risk of fall. Nearly all psychotropic drugs cause dizziness or a lack of motor control. This is especially risky for the elderly, who can sustain serious and even life-threatening injuries from a single fall.
- Higher mortality rate. The FDA has found that the use of some antipsychotic medicines is associated with a higher death rate for elderly patients.
At a deeper level, the misuse of psychotropic medicines is simply disturbing. It is a violation of human dignity and a senior’s sense of self. All individuals, regardless of age, have the right to live free of unnecessary restraints, especially chemical restrains that fundamentally alter their mind, their mood, and their ability to perceive the world. When nursing home staff administer unnecessary mind-affecting drugs, they don’t just endanger residents. They rob them of their personhood.
Are nursing homes liable for the results of overusing psychotropic drugs?
Yes. Anytime a nursing home administers a psychotropic drug, they should have a reason and a clear, documented process. This could mean:
- A doctor prescribed the treatment, with a specific clinical outcome in mind. The patient is being monitored and progress toward this goal can be measured. Medication is adjusted or suspended as needed if the desired health outcome isn’t being reached.
- The patient presented an immediate physical threat to themselves, to staff, or to other residents. The incident was documented and medication was stopped when the danger passed.
If a nursing home uses psychotropic drugs in any other way, there’s a strong chance they’re violating federal law. They’re also breaking best medical practices and the trust that you and your family put in them. You have the power to hold them accountable.
How can a Georgia elder neglect lawyer help?
A nursing home should treat your loved one responsibly. When someone you love is the victim of over-medication, you have legal rights. The nursing home is responsible not only for the misuse of the medication itself, but any complications that arise because of it. There is no way to undo the harm that the nursing home did, but you can recover the financial losses your family has suffered. This may include medical treatment, ongoing therapy and any other related costs.
The best way to pursue your case is to speak to a qualified local lawyer. John Foy & Associates is one of the best Georgia elder neglect law firms. We focus 100% of our practice on helping families and individuals who have been wronged. We offer a FREE consultation and we charge you nothing unless we can achieve a financial recovery for you. Call 404-400-4000 and get your free consultation today.