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A Prescription for Abuse in Chicago Nursing Homes: Too Many Medicated Residents

As we age, we take more medications.

We also lose muscle mass and mobility, which increases our risk for a fall accident. Nursing home falls have reached epidemic proportions in this country. Not surprisingly, those most likely to fall — those with mobility issues — are also most likely to be placed in the professional care of a nursing home.But it’s the over reliance on medication — and the side effects and interactions of such medications — that an increasing number of elder care advocates are contending is to blame for a significant number of fall accidents, unsupervised injuries and other dangerous nursing home incidents. Chicago nursing home attorneys believe a significant number of such cases involve prescription medications.

The New York Times reports a recent study looking at Medicaid patients in Florida nursing homes found 71 percent — or 7 in 10 — were receiving prescription medication to treat mental health issues despite the fact that most were not on such medication before entering the home.

Fifteen percent of residents were taking 4 or more of such medications, which include antidepressants, anti-psychotic drugs, and dementia medications.

Elder care advocates say having more than 7 in 10 residents so heavily medicated is an indictment of the system and illustrative of poor resident care. However, mental-health issues are also a common reason for nursing home admittance. So officials must walk a fine line — ensuring residents receive proper medical care while guarding against overmedication.

Because the average resident is already taking 10 or more prescriptions. And such mental health drugs are known for problematic side-effects and poor reactions with other medications.

Congress has been concerned for decades about overmedication in the nation’s nursing homes. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 began requiring that new residents be assessed for mental illness and encourages use of non pharmaceutical treatments. However, patients transferred from hospitals are exempt from screening. As a result, only about half of all residents ever receive the mandated assessments.

Only about half of nursing homes have professional mental health staff, including psychiatrists and psychologists. And the fact of the matter is that over reliance on such powerful antipsychotic medications can have all sorts of unintended consequences, including falls, broken bones and joints, cognitive decline, weight loss and withdraw.

And that’s not the only way prescription medication issues can lead to neglect or abuse.Recently Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a crackdown on nursing home prescription drug theft. Prescription drug abuse has exploded in this country. As a consequence, the elderly are too often left without pain medication. DeWine reminded Ohio nursing homes of the obligation to report suspected criminal activity and noted the state will help with prosecuting offenders for prescription drug abuse.

“Every time this happens a real patient is deprived of the medication they need to get well,” DeWine said in a statement. “This is why my office is now contacting facility administrators throughout the state. We want to remind them that we can help.”

Ohio has seen a recent string of cases in which nursing home employees were caught stealing an elderly resident’s pain medications. In both Cleveland and Columbus, nurses have been convicted of stealing Oxycodone. Other medication, including Percocet and pain patches, has also been involved in cases of prescription drug theft from nursing homes.

Contact Abels & Annes for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 855-LAW-CHICAGO. There is no fee unless you win.

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