Penalties needed for nursing homes that drug seniors government inspector says

The Washington Post has a story about government inspectors going after nursing homes over the issue of dispensing neuroleptic drugs for dementia. The article bears the very promising headline, Gov’t inspector says penalties needed to curb use of psychiatric drugs in nursing homes.

Government inspectors told lawmakers Wednesday that Medicare officials need to do more to stop doctors from prescribing powerful psychiatric drugs to nursing home patients with dementia, an unapproved practice that has flourished despite repeated government warnings.

This is, in my opinion, a very good move.

An inspector for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Senate Committee on Aging that the federal government’s Medicare program should begin penalizing nursing homes that inappropriately prescribe antipsychotics, according to written testimony obtained by the Associated Press.

Yay! Somebody is suggesting doing something that makes sense for a change. It’s an action that is sorely needed as the extent of this “off label” prescribing practice is beyond alarming.

A report by [Health and Human Services Inspector General] Levinson’s office issued in May found that 83 percent of Medicare claims for antipsychotics were for residents with dementia, the condition specifically warned against in the drugs’ labeling. Fourteen percent of all nursing home residents, nearly 305,000 patients, were prescribed antipsychotics. The HHS Inspector General’s office Medicare claims during a 2007 six month period.

As nursing home staff are disregarding these warning labels, penalties are called for. If nursing homes aren’t penalized it will mean many more needless deaths.

Bravo, government inspector, but this is only the tip of the iceburg when it comes to “off label” drugging. This is not a problem that exists just among the elderly. We need to penalize foster care workers and juvenile justice facilities that would use powerful neuroleptic drugs on children and adolescents as a controlling devise as well. Hopefully there, too, the government will get around to doing the only thing that will help curtail “off label” prescribing practices, and that’s punishing the biggest offenders.