Antipsychotic drugs kill an estimated 15,000 elderly per year—Advocacy Group Calls for More Nurses, Less Drugs

The Center for Medicare Advocacy issued a statement last week saying that huge savings in nursing facility costs, and advances in resident care, could be achieved if facilities eliminated the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs and provided sufficient staff to meet resident needs.

“Hundreds of thousands of residents receive antipsychotic drugs each day in nursing homes across the country, even though these drugs are inappropriate and life-threatening for the vast majority of residents to whom they are given.” said Toby S. Edelman, Senior Policy Attorney with the Center’s Washington, DC office.

Abuse of Mind-Altering Drugs Rising in Eldercare Facilities

The rising concerns of the abuse of medications in nursing homes comes as the psychiatric profession reviews its definitions of mental illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness guides mental health professionals in identifying nearly 300 different mental disorders. Its fifth edition, DSM-5, is due out next year.

As it stands now, the new guidelines could classify millions of elders as mentally ill for such conditions as bereavement and “mild cognitive disorder,” a heightened level of forgetfulness that many psychiatrists see as a possible precursor to dementia.

The manual doesn’t prescribe treatments; that’s left to individual doctors. But there are only 2,000 board-certified geriatric psychiatrists in the United States, according to Dilip Jeste, MD, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association and chief of geriatric psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

Doctors rarely face consequences for drug kickbacks

Two years ago, drugmaker Eli Lilly pleaded guilty to illegally marketing its blockbuster antipsychotic Zyprexa for elderly patients. Lilly paid $1.4 billion in criminal penalties and settlements in four civil lawsuits. But a doctor named as a co-defendant in one suit – for allegedly taking kickbacks to prescribe the drug extensively at nursing homes – never was pursued.

Five dementia sufferers die every day from antipsychotic drugs

Five dementia sufferers die each day after being wrongly prescribed “chemical cosh” drugs, the Department of Health has warned. A Government-commissioned report published in 2009 estimated that 180,000 dementia sufferers are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs but in as many as 150,000 cases they are unnecessarily being taken, often to keep patients quiet in hospital or nursing homes.

Because the “chemical cosh” drugs are feared to worsen other medical conditions and speed up mental decline, it is estimated that they lead to 1,800 needless deaths – five a day – every year. In addition, they are thought to cause 1,620 strokes, half of which are severe.

Drugging the Vulnerable: Atypical Antipsychotics in Children and the Elderly

Pharmaceutical companies have recently paid out the largest legal settlements in U.S. history — including the largest criminal fines ever imposed on corporations — for illegally marketing antipsychotic drugs. The payouts totaled more than $5 billion. But the worst costs of the drugs are being borne by the most vulnerable patients: children and teens in psychiatric hospitals, foster care and juvenile prisons, as well as elderly people in nursing homes. They are medicated for conditions for which the drugs haven’t been proven safe or effective — in some cases, with death known as a known possible outcome.

The benefit for drug companies is cold profit. Antipsychotics bring in some $14 billion a year. So-called “atypical” or “second-generation” antipsychotics like Geodon, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Risperdal rake in more money than any other class of medication on the market and, dollar for dollar, they are the biggest selling drugs in America.