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.
WASHINGTON — Two high-ranking senators have urged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to take a closer look at potential over-prescribing of atypical antipsychotics to nursing home residents. Atypical antipsychotics are not approved to treat dementia, and must carry black box warnings that elderly people who take atypical antipsychotics have an increased risk of death, compared with those who take placebo pills for dementia. Still, it’s clear that these drugs are being used in nursing homes to control behavioral problems related to dementia. A 2011 report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that 14% of all nursing home residents with Medicare had claims for antipsychotics and 88% of the atypical antipsychotics prescribed off-label were for dementia.
And in 2009 Elli Lilly, the makers of olanzapine (Zyprexa), pled guilty and paid $1.4 billion to the federal government for allegedly targeting doctors who worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to prescribe olanzapine off-label to elderly patients with dementia. In their letter, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), urged CMS administrator Donald Berwick, MD, to examine the issue of overuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes more closely. The letter is a follow-up to one the senators sent in May after the release of the OIG report, which the senators themselves requested.