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.”