A combination of chronically understaffed facilities, inadequately trained medical personnel and aggressive marketing by Big Pharma has created a deadly danger for elderly residents in many nursing home or assisted living facilities throughout the country. All too often, elderly patients are being administered medications, including dangerous antipsychotic drugs, to control their behavior. Rather than spend time with patients to understand why they may be aggressive or unhappy, these facilities are encouraged to subdue patients with drugs.
Kathi Levine, a California resident, tragically discovered this practice first-hand, when her mother, Patricia Thomas, 79, entered the Ventura Convalescent Hospital in Ventura, to receive physical therapy for a broken pelvis. Although her mother had Alzheimer’s, Ms. Levine told AARP Bulletin that when her mother went into the nursing home she could dress herself, feed herself, walk on her own, and have a conversation with her daughter. Mrs. Thomas was in the nursing home for 18 days. When Ms. Levine picked her up, she says her mother could not speak, she was withdrawn and slumped in a wheelchair. Within weeks of leaving the facility, Mrs. Thomas died.
Ms. Levine discovered her mother had been administered a long list of various drugs, including illegally administered antipsychotics. She told AARP Bulletin that she believes her “mother died because profit and greed were more important than people.” In May, lawyers working on behalf of Ms. Levine, along with lawyers from the AARP Foundation, agreed to an unprecedented class-action settlement against the facility for “using dangerous drugs without the consent of residents or family members.” It was said to be the first case of its kind in the country.
It has been reported that as many as one in five patients in nursing homes are given antipsychotic drugs, which are both unnecessary and dangerous for older patients. Pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers actively promoted drugs such as the antipsychotics Risperdal and Zyprexa for elderly patients, when these uses were not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, these drugs are recognized as dangerous for this elderly population, actually doubling their risk of death.
Omnicare, the nation’s largest long-term pharmacy provider, paid $98 million to the U.S. government in November 2009 to settle five whistleblower complaints alleging it participated in a number of kickback schemes, including receiving kickbacks from medical giant Johnson & Johnson for recommending that doctors prescribe its antipsychotic drug Risperdal to nursing home patients. In November 2013, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle False Claims Act lawsuits alleging that it paid kickbacks to doctors and promoted unapproved uses for three of its drugs, including Risperdal. In 2009, similarly, drugmaker Eli Lilly illegally marketed its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa to older people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The company agreed to a $1.4 billion settlement in that case.
It’s quite obvious that better training for caregivers is very important. But the reality is that many nursing home facilities are understaffed. Oftentimes there are not enough physicians to oversee patient care. Much of the responsibility for caring for elderly patients in nursing home facilities falls to Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), who may receive as little as 75 hours of job training to be certified. The CNAs also carry a heavy patient load. It is recommended there be one CNA for every seven patients, but the average ratio is more like one CNA for every 15 patients – or more.
Big Pharma promotes and actually pushes a quick and easy solution – and that is if a patient is agitated, medicate them; if a patient can’t sleep, provide another drug; and if a patient is anxious, give yet another pill. Our elderly citizens certainly deserve better.
Sources: AARP Bulletin, RightingInjustice.com
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