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Human Rights Watch Publishes Report on Use of Antipsychotic Drugs in Nursing Homes

February 05, 2018

Human Rights Watch has issued a report today on US nursing homes over-medicating residents with dementia.

The report states, "In an average week, nursing facilities in the United States administer antipsychotic drugs to over 179,000 people who do not have diagnoses for which the drugs are approved. The drugs are often given without free and informed consent..."  Studies show that the use of antipsychotic drugs nearly doubles the risk of death among older people with dementia. And too often, the drugs are used for their sedative effect rather than any medical benefit.

Federal law and some state laws require patients be informed about their treatment. The Human Rights Watch report found that non-consensual use of the drugs is "inconsistent with human rights norms," and the use of antipsychotic drugs as a chemical restraint "could constitute abuse under domestic law and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under international law."

The report continues, "US authorities, in particular the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) within the US Department of Health and Human Services, are failing in their duty to protect some of the nation’s most at-risk older people. On paper, nursing home residents have strong legal protections of their rights, but in practice, enforcement is often lacking. Although the federal government has initiated programs to reduce nursing homes’ use of antipsychotic medications and the prevalence of antipsychotic drug use has decreased in recent years, the ongoing forced and medically inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs continues to violate the rights of vast numbers of residents of nursing facilities. The US government should use its full authority to enforce longstanding laws, including by penalizing noncompliance to a degree sufficient to act as an effective deterrent, to end this practice."

The Human Rights Watch report offers specific recommendations to CMS, Congress, US Department of Justice, State Governments and State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs.

Read the full report here.

Learn more about the misuse of antipsychotic drugs on our issue page.

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