Off-Label Anti-Psychotics Often Used in VA Nursing Homes

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Off-label use of anti-psychotic drugs to treat residents of nursing homes run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is common, according to a new study.

Research from the University of Pittsburgh and VA Pittsburgh Medical Center reveals that one in four veterans living in VA nursing homes received anti-psychotic medicines even though 40 percent had no documented reason for needing that medicine.

The study, the first to address this topic in VA nursing homes, finds similar rates of anti-psychotic use as studies in other nursing homes, according to a news release.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved anti-psychotics for use in treating psychiatric diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome.

However, the study found that veterans in Alzheimer’s or dementia special care units had a 66 percent greater chance of receiving an anti-psychotic, and those with violent behavior were nearly three times as likely to receive an anti-psychotic medication, according to the study.

In the data collected from the VA nursing homes, it was found that patients suffering from dementia but with no diagnosis of psychosis were as likely to be given anti-psychotic medication as those patients with diagnosed psychosis.

The effectiveness of anti-psychotics in reducing behavioral problems in dementia patients is limited. The FDA issued a warning in 2005 against the atypical anti-psychotics due to their association with an increased risk of death when used for behavioral disorders in elderly patients with dementia. The warning was extended to all anti-psychotics in 2008.

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