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Over-medication: a widespread form of nursing home abuse

Residents of Oklahoma with loved ones in nursing homes should be concerned about a particular form of abuse found in such facilities. Many workers are medicating patients with antipsychotic drugs without the approval of the patients or their family as a way to suppress what they deem to be disruptive behavior.

A new report from Human Rights Watch estimates that every week, more than 179,000 nursing home residents are abused through overuse of medications with dementia patients being hit the hardest. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, not dementia; the FDA has never approved them for use on dementia patients. In fact, these drugs can double a dementia patient's risk for death.

The trend has long been recognized by government agencies, and there are federal regulations stating that patients must be informed of all their treatment options and of the risks pertaining to each. Antipsychotic drugs, for instance, come with a "black box" warning stating what risks they pose to dementia patients.

The Obama administration had pushed for a strengthening of these federal regulations; however, in November 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced a moratorium on such measures. Between 2014 and 2017, CMS inspectors issued 7,039 citations related to antipsychotic drugs, but these inspections have not changed how nursing homes appropriate the drugs.

Over-medicating, and even medicating without the patient's approval, is a form of nursing home abuse and, consequently, of medical malpractice. Victims or their families may be able to file a malpractice claim in the event of injuries. It would be wise to retain legal representation first. A lawyer might bring in experts to establish how the nursing home went against regulations, and the lawyer can handle all negotiations for damages, potentially taking the case to court as a last resort.

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