KPCC reported the latest data from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, known as CMS, regarding the percentage of long-term nursing home residents being given antipsychotic drugs dropped from about 24 percent in late 2011 to under 16 percent last year. Decreases were reported in all 50 states, with the biggest in Tennessee, California and Arkansas. However, 16 percent is still way too high.
“Given the dire consequences, it should be zero,” said attorney Kelly Bagby of the AARP foundation, which has engaged in several court cases challenging nursing home medication practices. Bagby contends that the drugs are frequently used for their sedative effect, not because they have any benefit to the recipients.
Experts and advocacy groups — including the Washington-based Center for Medicare Advocacy and AARP Foundation Litigation — say even the lower rate of antipsychotic usage is excessive, given federal warnings that elderly people with dementia face a higher risk of death when treated with such drugs. Some nursing homes are finding other medications that sedate their patients into passivity without drawing the same level of scrutiny as antipsychotics.
Analyzing the latest government data, Human Rights Watch estimates there are now about 179,000 people in nursing homes who get antipsychotics every week without having a diagnosis for which the drugs are approved.
“Antipsychotic drugs alter consciousness and can adversely affect an individual’s ability to interact with others,” the new report says. “They can also make it easier for understaffed facilities, with direct care workers inadequately trained in dementia care, to manage the people who live there.”
The report also says that nursing homes, in violation of government regulations, often administer antipsychotic drugs without obtaining consent from residents or the relatives who represent them.
Hannah Flamm, the report’s lead author, said the recent data showing a decline in antipsychotic usage demonstrated how extensive the overmedication problem had been. In an interview, she said the lower numbers don’t impress her.
“Would you want to go into nursing home if there’s a one in six chance you’d be given a drug that robs you of your ability to communicate?” she asked. “It’s hard for me to applaud the reduction when it’s inexcusable to ever misuse these drugs.”
Advocacy groups contend that federal enforcement of medication regulations has been too lax and will only grow more lenient as President Donald Trump’s administration pursues an agenda of deregulation.
“They’re helping the industry, not the patients,” said attorney Toby Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy: