The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will announce via webcast its "National Initiative to Improve Behavioral Health & Reduce the Use of Antipsychotic Medications in Nursing Home Residents" on March 29, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. PST. (CMMS Link to Webcast). Advocates have been working to raise awareness about the misuse of these powerful drugs, right here in our own backyard.
The Ventura County Long Term Care ombudsman program, spearheaded by Sylvia Taylor Stein and in coordination with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (www.CANHR.org) hosted a symposium in Oxnard, "Toxic Drugs - the Problem with Drugging as a First Resort in Dementia Care" in March of 2011. It was the first of its kind and was well attended by over 250 health care providers, consumers, and advocates.
The concept of drugging demented patients in nursing homes is a controversial one. Some doctors and health care providers believe there are legitimate uses for these kinds of drugs and that advocates are interfering with the provision of medical care. Others believe that these drugs are being overused, and misused, without regard for their serious (and potentially life-threatening) consequences. Advocates believe the letter of the law, which requires complete disclosure of the risks associated with these drugs, be met before the drugs are administered. And, importantly, the law requires that these types of drugs be used as a last resort, after all other reasonable alternatives have been tried and failed.
The epidemic lies in using these drugs as a first resort, and without a legitimate medical reason. When drugs are used to sedate and subdue a confused and/or agitated nursing home patient as a substitute for care and without attempting less harmful alternatives, both the spirit and the letter of the law have been violated. Hopefully, this initiative and the continued good works of CANHR, the ombudsman and other senior advocates will shine the light even brighter on this important issue and really bring about the change our seniors deserve.