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.
For any mental illness or passing mood swing that may trouble a person, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — better known as the DSM — has a label and a code. Recurring bad dreams? That may be a Nightmare Disorder, or 307.47. Narcolepsy uses the same digits in a different order: 347.00. Fancy feather ticklers? That sounds like Fetishism, or 302.81. Then there’s the ultimate catch-all for vague sadness or uneasiness, General Anxiety Disorder, or 300.02. That’s a label almost everyone can lay claim to.Drug companies are particularly eager to win over faculty psychiatrists at prestigious academic medical centers. Called “key opinion leaders” (KOLs) by the industry, these are the people who through their writing and teaching influence how mental illness will be diagnosed and treated. They also publish much of the clinical research on drugs and, most importantly, largely determine the content of the DSM. In a sense, they are the best sales force the industry could have, and are worth every cent spent on them. Of the 170 contributors to the current version of the DSM (the DSM-IV-TR), almost all of whom would be described as KOLs, ninety-five had financial ties to drug companies, including all of the contributors to the sections on mood disorders and schizophrenia.
When a loved one moves into a nursing home, the support of family and friends is particularly important. This is especially true when the nursing home patient has dementia and can’t adequately advocate on his or her own behalf.
A newly released report from my office — the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services — makes clear just how crucial it is for families to monitor and ask questions about medications that such patients receive. The report found that too often, elderly residents are prescribed antipsychotic drugs in ways that violate government standards for unnecessary drug use.
Antipsychotic drugs prescribed to as many as one in seven patients with dementia at nursing homes increase the risk of death and are not approved for such uses, a government audit has found.
Drugs such as Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon are “potentially lethal” to many of the patients getting them and in many cases, completely unnecessary and unneeded.
Nearly one in seven elderly nursing home residents, nearly all of them with dementia, are given powerful atypical antipsychotic drugs even though the medicines increase the risks of death and are not approved for such treatments, a government audit found. More than half of the antipsychotics paid for by the federal Medicare program in the first half of 2007 were “erroneous,” the audit found, costing the program $116 million for those six months. “Government, taxpayers, nursing home residents as well as their families and caregivers should be outraged and seek solutions,” Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in announcing the audit results.