New Report Exposes Risk of Overmedication in Illinois Nursing Homes

November 11, 2011

1156714_perscription_drug_case.jpgOur Illinois nursing home attorneys vigorously fight for victims of medical errors, who suffer serious medication-related injuries. Studies show that one out of every 10 nursing home residents is harmed by prescription drug errors each month. Many of these errors are due to chronic understaffing or poorly trained staff. Although the problem is nationwide, medication errors are particularly common in Illinois nursing homes.

A recent investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that thousands of Illinois nursing home residents are unnecessarily overmedicated or drugged without consent. State and federal inspection reports show that local residents are routinely given antipsychotic drugs even though they have not been diagnosed with psychosis. In all, nearly 3,000 Illinois nursing home residents have been affected by psychotropic medication errors since 2001. This is extremely troubling, because these medications have a high risk of death, particularly when they are administered to vulnerable, elderly seniors.

While some patients may legitimately require antipsychotic drugs in order to treat mental illnesses like schizophrenia, these powerful and dangerous drugs are often misused. Seniors suffering from diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's have been given antipsychotic medications to deal with confusion or anxiety. Other patients suffering from dementia are also being overmedicated so that they are easier to control. The standard of care for Illinois nursing homes directs employees to use their best efforts to calm restless patients and redirect their attention when they lash out, before resorting to drugs. Unfortunately, many nursing homes are ignoring this standard, largely because the staff is stretched thin and lacks adequate training to deal with the problem without the use of unnecessary medications.

The Tribune report documents the case of one Heritage Nursing Home resident, who had a history of heart problems but did not exhibit any signs of mental illness. He repeatedly refused to take an antipsychotic medication, but a nurse gave him one without telling him what it was until after he swallowed it. She claimed that she was trying to "help with his mood." This type of behavior clearly violates the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, which states that facilities cannot administer psychotic drugs without a doctor's orders and patient consent. There are serious health implications when this law is violated and patients are overmedicated with dangerous drugs. The labels of many popular antipsychotics have black-box warnings, which is the highest type of FDA warning. These drugs carry the risk of serious side effects, including seizures, permanent muscle complications, and even death. The longer patients are on these medications, the more they run the risk of permanent damage.

Our Illinois nursing home lawyers know that most medication errors are preventable. In nearly every case, these potentially fatal errors result from the negligence of nursing home employees, who are legally required to safely administer drugs to patients and closely monitor them for adverse reactions. When nursing homes and assisted living facilities violate the law and overmedicate patients or misuse dangerous prescription drugs, they may be liable for failing to prevent serious injury and death.

Family members should look for early signs of overmedication in order to prevent permanent medical complications, such as confusion, dizziness, hallucinations, and changes in behavior. If you or a loved one has been injured by a nursing home violation, it is important that you contact an experienced nursing home attorney immediately in order to stop the harm and protect your legal rights. Generally, Illinois nursing home patients who are injured by abuse or neglect have a two-year period of time in which to file a lawsuit and receive compensation. Far too many local nursing homes are failing to deliver the standard of care that the law requires, and a nursing home lawsuit can help protect future residents from harm.