Reports Find Nursing Homes Use Antipsychotics Off-Label Despite Safety Warnings

By January 15, 2010Dangerous Drugs

As a dangerous drug injury attorney, I was disappointed to see two new studies on the use of risky atypical antipsychotic drugs. According to a Jan. 11 article from HealthDay, a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that nursing home patients are more likely to be prescribed an atypical antipsychotic than patients outside of homes. This is despite the fact that prescriptions fell sharply after a 2005 “black box” safety warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, disclosing an increased risk of death in older patients with dementia.
Atypical antipsychotic drugs such as Risperdal and Abilify are used to treat mental illness. They are also widely used off-label to control the behavior of people with dementia, despite the health risks. A series of FDA actions throughout the decade warned patients that atypical antipsychotics increased their risk of strokes; metabolic problems like hyperglycemia and diabetes; and increased mortality among older people with dementia. They also carry a warning about the risk of tardive dyskinesia, involuntary repetitive movements that appear or continue even after the drug is stopped.
The study, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, found that almost a third of all nursing home patients were prescribed atypical antipsychotics for any reason. Of these, the study said, one-third did not have a diagnosis of schizophrenia or dementia. They also found that patients were more likely to be put on antipsychotics if they entered a nursing home where antipsychotics were already heavily used, suggesting that “organizational culture” rather than patient care was driving the decisions.
As a pharmaceutical liability attorney, I’m concerned about the continued use of these medications, particularly in patients with no mental illness or dementia to justify it. As the article notes, no medication is approved for controlling the behavior of people with dementia. One scientist said in the article that antipsychotics are the only drug known to work for this purpose — but as another one noted, nursing home residents are a vulnerable population. In an institutional setting, without family members watching, it’s all too easy for caregivers confronted with difficult behavior to simply drug patients. But given the risk of death or permanent disability, this is a dangerous and irresponsible use of caregivers’ power over their charges.


Based in St. Louis and southern Illinois, the Lowe Law Firm represents clients who developed serious illnesses or injuries after taking a prescription drug. Under the law, all manufacturers are legally liable for harm caused by products that are defective or fail to warn about serious safety problems. That includes manufacturers of prescription drugs, whether or not they have been recalled by the FDA. Our defective prescription drug lawyers help patients hold manufacturers legally and financially responsible for the harm their products have caused, which can include wrongful deaths and catastrophic disabilities. In a lawsuit, victims can claim all of the costs of their injuries, including lost income and all future medical care, as well as compensation for their pain, suffering and injuries.
If someone you love was injured after taking a prescription drug, you should call the Lowe Law Firm to learn more about your rights and your legal options. To set up a free, confidential consultation, please contact us through the Internet or call 1-877-678-3400 today.