Overmedicating the Elderly: Chemical Restraint in American Nursing Homes

Robert Sachs, Esq.

A troubling reality of drug abuse in American nursing homes is coming to light through class action lawsuits and personal stories. Family caretakers and elderly advocates are discovering a dark system of drug abuse inflicted on their elderly parents and loved ones, often when it is too late.

Robert Sachs, Esq.

Almost 300,000 residents currently receive antipsychotic drugs, including Risperdal, Haldol, and Seroquel, which approved to treat severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, nursing homes employ them instead to sedate, suppress, and immobilize residents, often claiming that it suppresses aggression, and anxiety that come with dementia and Alzheimers disease. Some are even more honest about their manipulation, telling one man that his wife was ‘agitated’ and ‘making too much noise’–so they gave her some medicine to ‘calm her down’ (NPR).

This is an issue we’ve tracked – and litigated – for years. In fact, here is an article that featured one of our clients from five years ago.

Federal law prohibits nursing homes from using antipsychotic and other psychoactive drugs for their convenience. It’s called chemical restraint and requires a documented medical need for the drugs. Still, many elderly residents are given these “black box” drugs despite the fact that they are not approved for dementia and carry risks of heart failure, infection, and death–three risks residents are already most vulnerable to.

Unknowingly, families consent to treatment when they are handed documents to sign with little more than the explanation of “We need you to sign this so we can give them medicine.” Little do they know, they’ve given the nursing home the OK to give their loved one drugs that one pharmaceutical expert calls a last resort. Besides the fatal risks, antipsychotics ‘blunt’ behavior and put patients at greater risk for falls. And, at the end of the day, families pay for the unfair and numbing treatment, financially and emotionally.

If you believe that your loved one has suffer abuse or chemical restraint in a nursing home, reach out for help. Contact your local ombudsman immediately and reach out to an attorney. You may be able to explore legal options. To learn more about this issue and hear personal stories, visit npr. org.

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