Sen. Charles Grassley recently sent a letter to the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He wants some answers after a federal report Grassley requested found many nursing home residents with dementia are given antipsychotic drugs. These drugs are not approved to treat dementia. They can be lethal for those afflicted with it, and Medicare has been paying for them.
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.
FOR decades, antipsychotic drugs were a niche product. Today, they’re the top-selling class of pharmaceuticals in America, generating annual revenue of about $14.6 billion and surpassing sales of even blockbusters like heart-protective statins. Lawyers suing AstraZeneca say documents they have unearthed show that the company tried to hide the risks of diabetes and weight gain associated with the new drugs. Positive studies were hyped, the documents show; negative ones were filed away. According to company e-mails unsealed in civil lawsuits, AstraZeneca “buried” — a manager’s term — a 1997 study showing that users of Seroquel, then a new antipsychotic, gained 11 pounds a year, while the company publicized a study that asserted they lost weight. Company e-mail messages also refer to doing a “great smoke-and-mirrors job” on an unfavorable study.
Science Daily is reporting that a study shows that newly admitted elderly patients to nursing homes have a higher rate of being prescribed antipsychotic drugs than in previous years. This study found that in 2007, almost one-third of U.S. nursing home residents received antipsychotic drugs. The FDA has issued a warning that there is a great risk of death among older adults with dementia who are taking these agents to control behavioral symptoms.
A lawsuit filed last week accuses Johnson & Johnson of conspiring with pharmaceutical consultant Omnicare in an effort to push J&J drugs on nursing home residents, and violating federal Medicaid laws in the process. As a result of the scheme, “residents were overcharged for their medications, had additional medications administered and were unlawfully switched to Johnson & Johnson drugs,” all in the name of increasing revenue, according to the lawsuit.