Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Use of Sedatives

The son of an Arkansas man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Mississippi nursing home for overuse of sedatives, indicating that his father died after being over-prescribed antipsychotics like Risperdal and Seroquel, as well as other drugs.  

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Howard Lawrence Guthrie, Jr. in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on October 2, alleging that the death of his father, Howard Lawrence Guthrie, Sr., was caused by the negligence of Quitman County Hospital, LLC, and the owners of the Quitman County Hospital and Nursing Home, where his father was a resident.

According to allegations raised in the nursing home wrongful death lawsuit, Guthrie, Sr. was given a drug cocktail of Risperdal, Seroquel, Haldol, and Ativan as sedatives until he was hospitalized with severe respiratory problems. Healthcare employees determined that he was oversedated.

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Guthrie Jr. claims the drugs were being used as a form of chemical restraint, designed to sedate his father, who was diagnosed with dementia and had periods of confusion and anger.

As a result of the over use of sedatives by the nursing home, Guthrie Jr. alleges that his father suffered septic shock, respiratory failure and fell into a coma. He was diagnosed with healthcare associated pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, acute renal failure, and also showed signs of malnourishment. On March 24, 2012 he suffered cardiac arrest and later died.

Concerns over Antipsychotics for Dementia Patients

The use of antipsychotics like Risperdal and Seroquel as a form of sedating dementia patients are considered by many to be a form of nursing home abuse. Federal health officials have expressly warned nursing homes not to give those drugs to dementia patients since they do not treat dementia and in fact increase the risk of patient death.

In May 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) issued a report on atypical antipsychotic misuse in nursing homes, which found off-label and dangerous use of the drugs was widespread.

The HHS-OIG report took data collected by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the first half of 2007 and found that 14% of the nation’s 2.1 million elderly nursing home residents were prescribed atypical antipsychotics at least once. Medical records indicate that 83% of those drugs were given for “off-label” reasons that were not approved by the FDA.

About 88% of the off-label uses were for conditions that the FDA cautioned against in black box warnings, the strongest label advisory the agency can give. The FDA warnings date back to 2005.

Not only are the antipsychotics dangerous, but they are expensive as well, according to CMS. They cost Medicare $7.6 billion in prescription reimbursements in 2011 alone.

This month, the prominent consumer watchdog group Public Citizen released a report warning about the use of antipsychotic drugs in dementia care, indicating that families should take action to ensure that their loved ones are not unnecessarily sedated.

The Guthrie lawsuit accuses the nursing home and its owners or medical negligence, and said the treatment provided before Guthrie Sr.’s dath was below the accepted standards of care. The lawsuit seeks compensation for physical and mental pain and suffering, medical expenses, permanent injury, wrongful death, loss of enjoyment of life, and funeral expenses.


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