About 2,500 Massachusetts nursing home residents are being given powerful and sometimes dangerous antipsychotic medications like Seroquel and Risperdal that they do not need, according to federal investigators.
Data released recently from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that 28 percent of all nursing home residents in Massachusetts were given antipsychotic drugs. Of those, 22 percent had no medical condition that required antipsychotic medication, raising suspicions that many were given the drugs as “chemical restraints” by nursing homes or to treat dementia, which the FDA has said can be dangerous and potentially lethal.
According to an analysis done last week by the Boston Globe, experts say that the quality of care at a nursing home can sometimes be directly related to how many antipsychotics they dole out to their residents. In homes with high quality staffing and care, the number of residents prescribed antipsychotics can be as low as 2% or 3%. In care facilities with low levels of staff and poor training, as many as 87% of the residents might be prescribed Seroquel, Risperdal, Zyprexa or other antipsychotic drugs.
The findings come as the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for allegedly taking part in a nursing home drug kickback scheme intended to get facilities to push the use of their medication, Risperdal, onto elderly patients.
The DOJ filed a civil False Claims Act compliant against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) on January 15, saying that the company paid millions to Omnicare, Inc. as kickbacks for prescribing its drugs to nursing home patients. Last year, Omnicare settled charges brought against it by the government for allegedly paying kickbacks to nursing homes to prescribe the drug. At that time, the Justice department investigators indicated that the illegal nursing home drug kickbacks were hidden as data fees, education fees and as payments to attend Omnicare meetings.
Risperdal, Seroquel and most other antipsychotics are not approved for treatment of dementia, and patient advocates have been pushing nursing homes to reduce the use of the drug among elderly due to the health risk and a lack of actual health benefits. According to a recent report from the United Kingdom, side effects of Risperdal and other similar antipsychotics, like Seroquel, Zyprexa and Abilify, could be linked to as many as 1,800 deaths and 1,620 strokes per year in elderly patients with dementia.
The FDA has repeatedly warned against the casual prescription of antipsychotics to elderly patients, particularly those with dementia. In 2005, the FDA required antipsychotics to carry a “black box” warning that the drugs were connected to an increased risk of premature death in elderly dementia patients. The warning is the most stringent labeling requirement possible under federal law.