Nursing Home Abuse Over Medication

You assume that when a nursing home administers medication, they are doing so because a physician has ordered them to do so and because it is necessary for your loved one’s health and safety. Unfortunately, some nursing homes take advantage of this “trust” and purposely over-medicate their residents to make them easier to handle.

Chemical sedation or the use of chemical restraints to control a resident is abuse. While you might only think of cuts and bruises as a form of abuse, the use of medications (especially over-medicating to restrain a resident) is abuse, too.

Nursing homes use these chemical restraints to make their job easier. After all, for them, a patient that is sleeping more than half the day is easier to manage, requires less attention, and allows them to get away with fewer staff on hand.

The use of antipsychotics and sedatives used to be commonplace until regulations from the Federal Government stopped their use. Unfortunately, there are nursing homes, especially those caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, that still use over-medicating as a way to control their residents rather than care for them.

Chemical Restraint Use in Ft. Lauderdale – More Common Than You Realize

Back in February 2018, CNN reported on patients who were slurring their words, unable to stay awake, and described as “zombies” by their loved ones. Administrators for nursing homes had admitted in the report that they used sedatives without any diagnosis or consent to keep patients sedated and easier to manage.

The Human Rights Watch report highlighted in the CNN post focused on nursing homes that were giving antipsychotic medications without any diagnosis from a psychiatrist or any indication they were suffering psychiatric illness. In fact, Dementia patients were given schizophrenia medications, and nursing homes were doing so as a cost-effective chemical restraint rather than out of medical necessity.

Chemical Restraints Are Illegal

Over the past few decades, Federal and State regulations have imposed higher scrutiny on nursing homes. Along with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), states created guidelines for hygiene, patient care, and the use of restraints – chemical included. Nursing home regulations have come a long way, but even with strict guidelines, nursing homes still use restraints and over-medicate to avoid managing patients properly.

Overmedicating Is Abuse

Overmedication occurs when a patient in a nursing home is given excessive amounts of a medication prescribed to them or given unnecessary medications. When done intentionally, it is abuse. When done unintentionally, it tends to fall under neglect. Both, however, are unacceptable and preventable.

Medicating a patient to make them easier to control or to make them compliant with caregivers is abuse. Often nursing homes give medications not prescribed to the patient, and sometimes these medications have serious interactions with those medications that the resident has already been prescribed.

Warning Signs Your Loved One Is the Victim of Overmedicating

If you are unsure whether your loved one is the victim of being chemically restrained, there are a few indicators to watch out for:

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Slurring words
  • Extreme behavior changes
  • Confusion that comes on suddenly
  • Becoming reclusive and uninterested in social activities
  • Developing unexplained medical conditions

The Complications of Overmedicating

Overmedicating is not innocent.

Instead, overmedicating can lead to serious health problems. Not only can it increase the chances for bedsores when a patient is confined to a chair or bed continuously, but it can also lead to:

  • Deadly Drug Interactions – A patient in a nursing home is likely to already have prescriptions they take daily. These chemical restraints could result in a life-threatening drug interaction. When a physician does not prescribe the restraints, nursing home staff could create a fatal interaction.
  • Overdoses – Chemical restraints do not work the same on everyone. Some patients may respond differently to the medication, forcing the nursing home to give a second restraint or more of the same chemical restraint – leading to a serious, if not fatal, overdose.
  • Organ Damage or Failure – Too many medications or the wrong combination might lead to organ failure or irreversible damage, such as damage to the liver and kidneys.
  • Death in Dementia Patients – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in 2005 that antipsychotics can increase the likelihood of death in patients with dementia.
  • Withdrawal Side Effects – When patients are given chemical restraint drugs and then suddenly taken off them without weaning them off, they may develop dependence and then suffer withdrawal side effects as a result. These can be life-threatening and lead to heart and other medical complications.

Reporting Overmedication Suspicions and Holding Nursing Homes Accountable

If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of overmedicating, remove them from the home and have a physician oversee their care. The physician may need to carefully wean them from the medication used as a chemical restraint.

Then, contact the local authorities to report the abuse. Report the abuse to your local police station but also contact your Administration on Aging. You can file a report with the Ombudsman Program as well, which will investigate the abuse allegations. You should also contact the Florida Adult Protective Services immediately. A caseworker will decide whether to start an investigation or not, and the evidence collected from that investigation may help prove your case.

Lastly, you should contact an attorney that has experience handling nursing home abuse cases. Nursing home abuse cases, especially those involving chemical restraints, are extraordinarily complicated. You must show that the nursing home intentionally used chemical restraints to make a patient’s care easier to handle, and that they neglected your loved one’s safety.

An attorney can help file complaints with the authorities and seek compensation from the nursing home to cover your loved one’s medical care, pain, suffering, and other damages from the abuse.

To get started or to see if you have a case, speak with a nursing home abuse advocate from the Law Office of David M. Benenfeld, P.A., today.  Schedule your consultation by calling 954-677-0155 or request an appointment online.