Nursing homes can still over-sedate patients without repercussions

Nursing home patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s should not be sedated with medication for those with schizophrenia or bipolar, but data shows that they are, which could be fatal. Keeping track of this overuse of drugs is a major issue. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has given these drugs a black box warning, […]

Nursing home patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s should not be sedated with medication for those with schizophrenia or bipolar, but data shows that they are, which could be fatal.

Keeping track of this overuse of drugs is a major issue. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has given these drugs a black box warning, saying they can increase the risk of heart failure, infections and death. Still, almost 300,000 nursing home residents still get these drugs throughout the country.

Despite a new campaign put together by the federal government in 2012 to address this issue, NPR analyzed the data and found the numbers are pretty startling.

Texas, in particular, is really behind in this initiative with more than a quarter of patients still being given these dangerous drugs.

NPR put together am interactive database of its own where you can check the statics in nursing homes in your area and see where they match up to the national average, which is now below 20 percent. (Click on the images to check out your own city or state.)

Nursing home activities director Roxanne Stengel attended a new training session in Houston designed to help prevent this. “I saw my fair share,” she said of seeing the drugs used as a “form of control [and] restraint” in some of the previous places she worked. “That’s pitiful. There’s got to be a better way.”

The issue is that even though there seems to be some action put in place to make changes, some programs aren’t really being used, and when they’re not, no one is held accountable.

The penalties for giving residents unnecessary medication can range from a “plan of correction,” to civil fines, to being kicked out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. “We try to use the full array of enforcement,” Dr. Patrick Conway, chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says, “including harsh penalties.”

But again, NPR’s analysis of CMS data found that harsh penalties are almost never used when nursing home residents get unnecessary drugs of any kind. Inspectors grade these deficiencies according to the severity of the offense. And only 2 percent of the infractions were ranked at a level that might trigger a fine or worse.

Conway stands behind the CMS’s next initiative to bring down the numbers another 15 percent by the end of 2016. Problem is, even if that goal is reached, a quarter of a million patients will still be medicated with these dangerous drugs.