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Carole Herman

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Overmedication Of The Elderly Is A National Disgrace

Posted: 03/23/2012 3:35 pm

In 1982, I formed the Foundation Aiding The Elderly (FATE) after my beloved aunt was overmedicated by her family physician and subsequently fell, broke her hip and ended up in a nursing home for rehabilitation.

My aunt entered this nursing home for rehabilitation; however, she never received the therapy she needed and never got out of that nursing home because of the "chemical restraints" -- the antipsychotic drug Haldol -- that were administered to her. The adverse side effects Haldol caused her to stop talking and swallowing; made her unable to do rehab; and ultimately made her bed-ridden, which caused her to develop a bed sore that eventually killed her. My family didn't know she was getting the Haldol or that she had developed a stage 4 bed sore that caused her death. We didn't know what to look for, what questions to ask or who to turn to for help until it was too late.

That was almost 30 years ago when nursing homes and medications were not on anyone's radar. Doctors were not being questioned about the medications, nor were they discussing the side effects of the medications. In addition, the older generation would never question a doctor, and still thought that doctors could do no wrong. And very little to no attention was being paid to nursing home care by the media or anyone else.

Over the years, I have worked very hard getting the word out about this national disgrace. Our most vulnerable citizens in long-term care facilities do not have a voice and FATE has been able to fill that void by speaking loud and clear for them and their families about abuses in long-term care facilities and, in particular, the overmedication of the patients in those places.

Chemical restraints in nursing homes finally became a "quiet" issue about 18 years ago. At that time, the federal government set regulations that antipsychotic medications in nursing homes may not be administered unless agreed to by the patient or the patient's decision maker in the event that patient was incompetent. It is called "informed consent" and the informed consent can only be obtained by the physician. It must be documented that the consent was in fact obtained by the physician.

My experience since then has been that unless the family knows the rights of the patient and gets educated on what they can do to ensure proper care, the abuses will continue. What makes it even more egregious is that the majority of payments to nursing homes comes from MediCare and MediCaid (MediCal in California) funds. Thus, we as taxpayers are funding elder abuse in the U.S.!

What is also outrageous is that when celebrities die of a drug overdose, people focus on the fact that they "died from an overdose of prescribed medications, not illegal drugs..." as if it is OK because the prescribed drug is legal! FATE began a letter-writing campaign a couple of months ago targeting the CEO's of the major television networks, publishing companies and newspapers and magazines, asking that they consider not advertising antipsychotic medications because of the horrific adverse side effects of these drugs -- especially in the elderly. So far, not one response!

I realize that we are fighting two of the biggest industries in the country -- nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies. Not only are these industries huge advertisers, they are also big campaign donors. However, it is time that the problems with prescribed medications and nursing home abuses are brought to the forefront so that the public knows what to watch out for.

With the baby boomers now turning 66, these problems are only going to get worse. It is not a mystery any longer that nursing home patients die each year from poor care, neglect and adverse side effects of antipsychotics drugs. And yet, the beat continues and the drugs are still being prescribed, and usually without consent. The pharmaceutical companies are taking our minds away from us and it's being allowed because the industry has tons of money to make sure that they are marketed to the public for consumption and the physicians continue to prescribe them.

Physicians should return to reading their PDR, Physician Desk Reference, when prescribing medications instead of listening to the sales pitch of pharmaceutical salespeople. The public should be asking pharmacists about the drug interactions, as they are the ones who studied medications and can explain the adverse side effects and risks of taking these types of
prescribed drugs.

I'm not saying that there is no need for nursing homes or medications. However, there is an epidemic of the use of mind altering drugs that needs to be addressed, as well as the lack of oversight by the government regulators to insure that all of us citizens who may end up in a nursing home someday get the proper care and treatment that we all deserve and that we all are paying for.

 
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