Newspaper Investigates Dangerous Mix Of Nursing Homes And Psychotropic Drugs

Illinois nursing home patients often receive psychotropic drugs without cause, which poses various health dangers and even death, the Chicago Tribune reports as part of its Compromised Care series. "Frail and vulnerable residents of nursing homes throughout Illinois are being dosed with powerful psychotropic drugs, leading to tremors, dangerous lethargy and a higher risk of harmful falls or even death, a Tribune investigation has found. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have been affected, many of them drugged without their consent or without a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis that would justify treatment, state and federal inspection reports show."

The Tribune identified about 1,200 such violations at Illinois nursing homes since 2001. The newspaper's "unprecedented review of more than 40,000 state and federal inspection reports found that nursing homes ranging from 'five-star' establishments on the North Shore to run-down facilities in urban neighborhoods have been cited for improperly administering psychotropic drugs." 

According to the story, the "findings come at a difficult time for Illinois nursing homes, which are already under fire for housing violent felons alongside geriatric patients and for failing to accurately assess the risk posed by the most serious offenders. ... The misuse of psychotropics, which some experts say is a nationwide problem in nursing homes, suggests a troubling future for many seniors. ... In testimony before Congress two years ago, Food and Drug Administration scientist Dr. David Graham estimated that thousands of nursing home residents die each year because antipsychotic drugs are administered to patients who are not mentally ill" (Roe, 10/27).

In a separate piece, the Chicago Tribune reports on one such senior's death. "Just eight hours after he moved into the nursing home, state inspection records show, Lloyd Berkley was approached by four employees, one of whom had a needle behind her back. While three of them held down the 74-year-old man, the fourth injected him with a high amount of the antipsychotic drug Haldol, which quickly sedated him, according to state records." But hours later, the man fell and injured his head. He died at a hospital. "The worker with the needle, investigators discovered, was not licensed as a nurse and did not have a doctor's order to give the man the medication. Berkley's death offers a dramatic example of a common problem in nursing homes: heavily drugged residents falling and suffering injuries — or worse" (Roe and Leonhardt, 10/27).

The Chicago Tribune, in a separate explainer, also includes five things to know about psychotropic drugs from information provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health (10/27).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.