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Articles Posted in Medication Errors

Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating allegations that some nursing homes were dispensing powerful narcotics to nursing home residents without a physician order. Because of the new scrutiny, however, nursing home and hospice trade organizations are arguing that many patients are now being left without pain medication as the nursing facilities try to find ways to comply with DEA regulations. Congress has also taken notice, and the subject will be addressed at a Senate hearing today.

The DEA intensified its efforts to battle abuse of prescription drugs in nursing home, after numerous reports of overmedication of patients in nursing facilities, many without prescription, and frequently used as a “chemical restraint,” not to treat a specific illness. In a letter to Congress last December, attorneys for the DEA said that allowing nurses to dispense medications without a doctor’s order, “trivializes the doctor-patient relationship and weakens the quality of care for the frail and infirm.”

Nursing home trade organizations, however, say that long-term care facilities don’t make available enough doctors to issue prescriptions every time. The DEA’s requirement on “hard copy prescriptions,” it says, places burdens on prescribers, pharmacists and nurses, and can lead to extended delays in the administration of pain medication.”

In 2007, Dr. David Graham, a drug safety expert with the FDA, testified before Congress and stated that approximately 15,000 people die each year in U.S. nursing homes from the off-label use of anti-psychotic drugs. Off-label use is the use of the drug for a condition it was not intended. In California, it has been estimated that up to 60% of all nursing home residents are given psychoactive drugs, which is an increase of 30% in only 10 years. It’s no wonder that when we think about nursing homes, we think of isolated elderly people sitting hunched over in wheelchairs, or in bed, segregated from the world. That life is a sad realty for many.

To combat the misuse of psychoactive drugs, the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform have released a publication called Toxic Medicine – What You Should Know to Fight the Misuse of Psychoactive Drugs in California Nursing Homes. The 20-page booklet provides an overview of what psychoactive drugs are, their purposes, the risks associated with them, and an overview of the resident’s rights.

Primary among those rights is the requirement of consent. Before a psychoactive drug can be used, a physician must inform the resident (or his/her decision-maker) about the drug, why it is being recommended, and the risks associated with it, and then must obtain consent before prescribing it. The guide also provides a list of questions that should be asked of a doctor who is recommending a psychoactive drug, and what to do if it is suspected that the drugs are being used without proper authority.

The Chicago Tribune recently published a brief article called 5 Things to Know about Psychotropics, which I thought I would pass along to you. Here are the five things:

Your rights: A nursing facility cannot administer a psychotropic drug without a physician’s order, which by law requires informed consent and a legitimate diagnosis. The standard of care requires that nursing staff must first try to calm patients, and other possible causes of agitation must be ruled out, such as infection.

The consent: Before psyschtropics can be used consent must be obtained by the “responsible party” of the resident, usually the person with power of attorney. The consent must be in writing.

Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed SB 303, a proposed law that would require doctors to inform residents about the dangers of psychotropic medications, and require nursing homes residents to give consent before such drugs can be given.

According to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), the use of psychoactive drugs has become an epidemic in California. According to one study, nearly 60% of all California nursing home patients are administered psychoactive narcotics, a huge increase from only a decade earlier.

Governor Schwarzenegger admitted that misuse of antipsychotic drugs is a serious problem in nursing homes when he vetoed the legislation, and even cited a study that found more than have of all residents on psychoactive drugs are in violation of federal guidelines.

The administrator of Kern Valley Hospital was charged eight counts of felony elder abuse this week after permitting caregivers to forcibly administer psychotropic drugs to residents out of convenience and not medical necessity. One resident died because of the practice.

Since 2006 the director of nursing at Lake Isabella nursing home has allegedly ordered caregivers to administer high doses of psychotropic medications to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to control their behavior and make them easier to care for. This use of medications as a “chemical restraint” is illegal, and will likely expose the nursing home to civil lawsuits in addition to the criminal charges that have been filed.

According to news reports, three residents may have died as a result of the practice. The residents who died were Mae Brinkley, 91, Joseph Shepter, 76, and Alexander Zaiko, 85.

A Tracy, California nursing home received a $100,000 fine and a AA citation, the state’s most severe, after it was determined that the death of a 78-year-old resident was due to nursing home malpractice. The nursing home staff failed to monitor the woman’s medication and failed to send her to the hospital when her brain started to bleed.

According to the report, the resident had recently received an increase in medication to prevent clots. With the medication came a potential for internal bleeding. Shortly after increase in dosage, the woman began to slur her words and complained of a headache. She kept saying, “My head, my head…” But nothing was done.

Several hours later the resident was semi-conscious, waking only to vomit. The family complained to the home that something was not right, but failed to take the matter seriously. The woman was eventually transferred to the acute-care hospital, but it was too late. She died in the emergency room.

The Walton Law Firm elder abuse and neglect lawsuit filed against Vista Hospital of Riverside was the subject of a front page story in the Press Enterprise newspaper today.

The lawsuit arises out of the improper care provided to 78-year-old Shirley Buffa, who died after the hospital failed to administer dialysis treatments necessary to treat her diabetes. According to her son, Marine Corp. veteran Robert Buffa, his mother became increasingly sick in the days after she was admitted to the hospital, but the hospital attributed the decline in her health to a reaction to antibiotics. When the mistake was realized, it was too late.

At that point, she couldn’t even talk,” Robert Buffa said. “I said, ‘Mom, I love you. How come you can’t open your eyes?'”

The County of San Diego paid $1.6 million to settle a case filed by Ruth Lomeo against Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital, a county-run nursing home.

According to the lawsuit, Lomeo, who was only 44, was given an overdose of fentanyl pain medication by nursing staff at Edgemoor and began to have trouble breathing. It took over 20 minutes for 911 to be called and for emergency help to arrive. It was alleged that the lack of oxygen caused brain damage, and that Lomeo now communicates like a five year old, and cannot care for herself.

The County of San Diego denies all the allegations, and states its decision to settle the case was a business decision to avoid a jury verdict.

A jury in Arizona has awarded $6 million to the family of Sylvia Culpepper after the 81 year old died from an overdose of morphine in a nursing home. Culpepper, who was an active senior, was in the ManorCare nursing home only to recover from a back injury, and was expected to return home after her recovery.

According to reports, the nursing home resident was diagnosed with sciatica in late 2003, and prescribed 15 milligrams of morphine, twice daily. Two days later, while still in the hospital, her morphine dosage was doubled. When she was discharged to Manor Care, both of the prescriptions went with her, and the nursing home staff immediately began giving Culpepper both dosages, twice daily, totally unaware of the mix up.

Attorneys representing the family said the jury blamed the nursing home for failing to recognize morphine intoxication and overdose, and for understaffing.

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