A recent government audit discovered that almost one in every seven elderly nursing home residents are given strong atypical antipsychotic drugs, without the consideration that these medicines raise the risk of death and are not approved for such treatments. Nearly all of these patients have dementia. The FDA has warned that these drugs, usually given to patients with serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are not appropriate for these patients.
This audit found that in the first part of 2007, the federal Medicare program paid for antipsychotics that were given in error during the first six months of 2007. This cost the program an astounding $116 million for that first half of that year.
Daniel Levinson, who is the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote that “government, taxpayers, nursing home residents as well as their families and caregivers should be outraged and seek solutions.” He also pointed out that these drugs such as Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon, are “potentially lethal” to some elderly patients and that some drug manufacturers illegally marketed their medicines for these uses “putting profits before safety.”
The audit is a rare evaluation done by the government to check if doctors are treating Medicare patients as they should in nursing homes. Levinson recommended that the government should keep a record of the diagnoses given to Medicare patients so it can determine if the drugs prescribed to them are accurate and suitable for the patients’ needs.
Even though this is common in the private sector, an oversight such as this is extremely rare in the Medicare program and would most likely be strongly advised against by doctors’ groups and most in Congress who see government intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship as wrong.
In reaction to the audit, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that some of the inaccurate use of antipsychotics in elderly nursing home patients is the consequence of drug manufacturers paying kickbacks to nursing homes to increase those prescriptions.