All too often, I hear stories about friends and family who are given too many narcotics or psychotropic medications,* causing them to become oversedated, too sleepy to participate in daily activities, and too drugged to enjoy life. To make sure this does not happen to you or your loved one, please educate yourself by reading the next few paragraphs and learning more about your rights.
1. If you or someone you know is SENSITIVE to the EFFECTS of medications, be sure to inform doctors and other healthcare providers like hospital and nursing home staff.
2. If your family member or friend is not capable of making his or her own decisions, APPOINT ONE PERSON as Personal Representative.** Having one person designated as decision maker prevents doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes from asking different people every time they seek consent for a treatment. More importantly, it keeps your loved one safe because it prevents conflict, and it keeps different people from making contradictory decisions.
3. If you or your loved one has NEVER TAKEN narcotic or psychotherapeutic drugs in the past, make sure that the doctor WHO IS ORDERING THE MEDICINE explains the medical reason for the medication, the risks, the benefits, and the alternatives including non-drug options BEFORE YOU SIGN ANYTHING.
4. Unless it is an emergency or other special criteria are met, doctors are required to obtain informed consent BEFORE starting psychotropic drugs for elderly or minors.*** Consent does not mean a nurse calling you and telling you that a doctor recommends so and so drug and then asking you to sign a form the next time you visit the hospital or nursing home. This practice is not legal and it violates your rights! Informed Consent is a CONVERSATION whereby a doctor informs you of the reason for the medicine, as well as its risks/benefits/alternatives and the right to refuse.
5. Help us put a stop to oversedation by knowing and asserting your rights.
*Examples of narcotic painkillers are hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lortab), morphin (MS Contin, Kadian, Avinza), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan), tramadol (Ultram), methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), from WebMD.
Examples of psychotherapeutic or psychotropic drugs are Clonazepam (Klonopin), Lorazepam (Ativan), Alprazolam (Xanax), Buspirone (Buspar), Chlorpromazine (Thorazine), Haloperidol (Haldol), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyprexa), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Clozapine (Clorazil), Ziprasidone (Geodon), Aripiprazole (Abilify), Paliperidone (Invega), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Citalopram (Celexa), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Escitalopram (Lexapro), and others. For a complete list, see the National Institutes of Health website.
**Personal Representative is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a person with legal authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the individual, either a Healthcare Power of Attorney, General Power of Attorney or someone appointed by the court as legal guardian. Power of Attorney for Healthcare is part of California's Advanced Directive Form.
***See California Department of Public Health FAQ on Informed Consent. See also Disability Rights California and National Center for Youth Law.