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New Program to Reduce Antipsychotic Drugs in Nursing Homes

May 30, 2012 — Health authorities in the U.S. are hoping to reduce the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes by 15% before the end of 2012. According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in 2010, more than 17% of nursing home patients had daily doses of antipsychotics that exceed recommended levels. The drugs are frequently prescribed to sedate people who have dementia.

The goal of the program will be to protect nursing home residents from unnecessary drug use. Antipsychotics already carry a Black Box warning that they can cause death in people who have dementia. The Black Box is the strongest warning that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can place on a drug.

Even so, the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes has risen dramatically in recent years. Many times, the drugs are prescribed to elderly people who cannot communicate their needs. Because the drugs have a sedative effect, they are often used to control aggressive elderly patients who have advanced dementia.

Another problem is that the U.S. taxpayer pays for much of the over-use of these medications. Because hundreds of thousands of long-term care residents are over-prescribed antipsychotics, the cost to society may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

The new CMS program goals include the following:

  • Increase awareness of the problem among nursing home staff with training that emphasizes high-quality care for nursing home residents
  • Compile data on antipsychotic use electronically, and make it publicly available on the website Nursing Home Compare
  • Provide training that advocates alternatives to antipsychotic drugs, such as exercise, outdoor time, pain management, and planned activities.

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