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Overdosing, Wrong Medication, and Nursing Home Abuse

Statistics show that as we age, the chances of us needing prescription medication increases. Although most diseases can happen at any age, cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the three biggest killers of the elderly. All three diseases require numerous medications. In addition, high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease are common diseases in which elderly citizens are prescribed medication. In fact, according to AARP, Americans ages 75 and older take on average, over 11 different drugs over the course of a year. A 2003 Families USA study reports that while seniors comprise 13% of U.S. population, they account for almost 35 percent of all filled prescriptions. Close to 90% of all Medicare beneficiaries use prescription drugs.

Given these facts, one would hope that properly managing patient medication is a high priority in nursing homes. In quality, well-run nursing homes, staff members ensure that the proper procedures are being implemented when residents are given their medications. Unfortunately, however, giving patients the wrong medication and overdosing patients are too-frequent forms of nursing home abuse in poorly managed and operated nursing homes.

Wrong Medication

Abuse of this type can take several forms. In cases where the nursing home is understaffed, overworked nurses may make mistakes by becoming careless. As a result, one resident may be given the prescribed drugs of another resident. The ramifications are seriou. If one patient receives someone else’s high-blood-pressure medication instead of her own diabetic medication, not only are both patients failing to be treated for their current medical conditions, but they also run the risk of dangerous interactions and side effects from drugs they’re not supposed to be taking. Furthermore, some drugs require steady, consistent use in order to be effective and safe. Skipping doses may render the medication ineffective. On average, a typical nursing home residents take several different types of pills per day. Understaffed and overwhelmed staff members, unfortunately, may get medications mixed up when dealing the sheer amount of medication that residents need on a daily basis.

Overdosing / Chemical Restraint

Although the previously mentioned scenario is certainly dangerous, getting patient medications confused is typically unintentional abuse. This of course, is still illegal and is considered a form of nursing home abuse, but there are also more sinister acts in which staff members purposely overdose residents. Unscrupulous staff members and caregivers may intentionally give patients drugs they have not been prescribed or higher doses of ones they have in order to subdue them. In fact, according to a 2010 study performed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), more than 17% of nursing home residents throughout the United States are given more than the required amount of antipsychotic drugs on a daily basis. In California alone, the numbers are even higher, with at least 25% of all statewide nursing home residents receiving more than the required amount. In Florida, however, the CMS study revealed that a shocking 71% of the state’s nursing home residents were being overdosed with antipsychotic medications.

Even more disturbing is that in many cases, immoral administrators may condone or even encourage such behavior if it helps the to subdue what they consider unruly and disruptive residents. According to ABC Wold News, a nursing home director of the Kern Valley Nursing Home in California was charged with “chemically restraining” patients in 2010. Nursing director Gwen Hughes gave patients, and in some cases forced them to take powerful antipsychotic drugs when they complained or annoyed her. Sadly, at least three patients were killed at Kern Valley as a result using drugs as a chemical restraint. In 2013, Hughes was sentenced to three years in state prison for felony elder abuse.

Unfortunately, overdosing residents with prescribed medication is reported to be a common problem in US nursing homes, and a growing one. Since physically restraining patients with belts and straps is now illegal except in rare situations, some experts suggest that drugs are being used instead when nursing home staff feel the need to control difficult patients. While it is not legal to use drugs to chemically restrain a patient, such practices are acknowledged to be widespread. The result can be a serious decrease in quality of life or even death. At least 15,000 nursing home patients die each year because of unnecessary antipsychotics, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Watch for Signs

If your loved one’s health or behavior changes erratically, if he or she starts developing unusual physical symptoms, or if he or she grows more lethargic or confused, medication-related abuse may be at fault. If at all possible, visit the nursing home when medications are dispensed to see whether care is taken to ensure that the correct drugs and dosages are given to patients. Ask to see a log of the drugs given to your loved one. And if you do suspect that your loved one has been improperly medicated, ask a doctor to run tests.

A common fact is that a lot of nursing home abuse incidents go unreported. Consequently, it’s imperative for loved ones to watch out for the warnings signs that something is wrong. Typical side effects and warning signs of overdosing residents consist of:

  • Unusual Fatigue and Exhaustion
  • Disorientation
  • Unusual Withdrawal from Family and Social Visits
  • Unexplained Medical and/or Physical Complications
  • Oversleeping and/or Taking Frequent Naps
  • Easily Confused and Forgetful
  • Acting “Zombie-like”

Furthermore, you should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss the problem and your legal rights.

Getting Legal Help

If your loved one has been victim to any form of medication abuse, whether via overdosing or being given the wrong prescription drugs, an experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help you get the justice you and your loved one deserves. Nursing home abuse attorneys have helped numerous victims of nursing home abuse go on to receive the maximum financial compensation they are entitled to. Call today and let a nursing home abuse lawyer help you as well.

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