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New Mexico Nursing Home Medication Abuse Lawyers

Get Legal Help for Nursing Home Medication Abuse in New Mexico

Medication abuse can take many forms, either due to neglect, accidental errors, or cruel intent. In neglect, a home may be severely understaffed. With too many residents to care for, staff members can simply forget to administer or hand out the medication that their residents need. Even if unintentional, this presents serious danger to the residents. Without proper medication, conditions can get out of control and worsen, leading to a decline in health or early death.

Accidental errors fall within the same issue. A home is understaffed, and so the workers are being forced to care for more residents than they can. Files become mixed up, and the wrong medication is given to a resident. Even blood pressure medicine can be incredibly dangerous if administered to the wrong person. These mistakes lead to illness, hospital stays, and sometimes, death. It is a nursing home’s job to properly care for our loved ones, and that includes making sure they are properly staffed. Do not write off medication abuse as a simple mistake that’ll never happen again.

As for intentional abuse, nursing homes frequently give antipsychotic medications to residents who are considered too difficult – or who have dementia or PTSD – to control their behavior, despite rules against chemical restraints. This practice is widespread, even though it is well known that giving antipsychotic drugs to older people with dementia can be dangerous. The FDA issued an alert on June 16, 2008, notifying healthcare officials of the increased risk of mortality associated with treating elderly patients with dementia with antipsychotics.

If your elderly loved one is being over-medicated in a New Mexico nursing home, contact Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP at (903) 212-2822 today. We can act swiftly to help protect your loved one from nursing home medication abuse.

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What Is Behind Medication Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Elderly people with dementia, PTSD, or behavioral issues can be challenging to manage. Difficult nursing home residents are often sedated to make the job easier for overworked nursing home staff, particularly in understaffed facilities. Antipsychotic medications are administered to unruly or disruptive residents as chemical restraints for the convenience of the staff, despite federal regulations and, in some cases, to discipline residents. These drugs are used to control behavioral problems associated with certain conditions such as dementia or PTSD, like agitation, aggression, irritability, and wandering. With residents deeply sedated or “knocked out” by antipsychotic drugs, nursing homes can significantly reduce staffing levels, and existing staff have less difficulty managing the residents.

With medication errors, these often come about either due to overstaffing, or because medical files, written along with the plan of care, are outdated. The plan of care is the strategy that the nursing home staff come up with, along with the resident’s loved ones, to determine how best to care for the resident. It must be written down, and should include extensive instructions on the best course of action for caring for the resident, in addition to any medical needs. These plans are meant to be updated and reviewed regularly, but many nursing homes neglect to do so, either because they don’t have the time, or they simply can’t be bothered. Without up-to-date files, it becomes extremely easy to administer the wrong medication, or not administer any medication at all. This can result in a decline of health and even death.

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Federal Regulations against Medication Abuse and Chemical Restraints

Federal law strictly prohibits the use of chemical restraints for discipline, staff convenience, or any other non-medical reason. These drugs may only be administered in cases where the resident’s behavior jeopardizes his or her own safety, or the safety of staff or other residents. Under 42 CFR Section 460.114, chemical restraint is defined as “a medication used to control behavior or restrict the participant’s freedom of movement and is not a standard treatment for the participant’s medical or psychiatric condition.” If these drugs are used at all, the law requires that chemical restraints are only imposed for a defined, limited period when less restrictive measures have been found to be ineffective, and they must be stopped as early as possible.

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What Are the Health Risks Associated with Nursing Home Medication Abuse?

There are very good reasons for plans of care and for the black-box warning label assigned by the FDA to antipsychotic drugs in 2008. All medications carry a risk with them, and those risks rise dramatically when medication is administered incorrectly or to a person who doesn’t need them. Antipsychotics in particular have some serious side effects. Potential risks for medication abuse include:

  • Diabetes
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Visual disturbances
  • Cognitive decompensation
  • Fall risk
  • Overdose
  • Dyskinesia (involuntary muscle movements)
  • Death

A study on the risk of death in elderly patients with dementia who are given antipsychotics was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2015. Researchers concluded that the risk of death in these circumstances may be higher than originally reported and that the risk increases with dosage.

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What Medications Are the Most Dangerous?

Any medication can be dangerous if administered improperly. Drugs have specific ways they should be taken, particular dosages, and reasons to be prescribed. However, there are some medications that have more serious side effects if taken incorrectly, or by someone without the appropriate condition. A few of these are:

  • Insulin
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Blood thinners

Always be involved in your loved one’s care. Ask for regular updates and reviews to their plans of care. Be sure to be present during those reviews. Ask the staff what medications are being administered and why. In addition, you should never be afraid to get a second opinion from a medical professional. Residents may not know that they are not being given the proper medication, or that their medication is not being administered properly.

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How Big Is the Problem of Medication Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Medication errors and abuse are far more common than people may realize. In a review of 11 separate studies, the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) found that up to 75% of residents involved in the studies have been victims of at least one medical error. This means it is incredibly likely that any of your loved ones in nursing homes have either been given the wrong medicine, not been given the medicine they need, or have been under/over medicated.

According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the percentage of long-term nursing home residents being given antipsychotic drugs dropped from approximately 24 percent in 2011 to 14 percent in 2019. However, even the lower rate of antipsychotic medication usage is excessive and alarming, given FDA warnings regarding the effects of these drugs on older adults with dementia.

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What Are the Signs of Medication Abuse in Nursing Homes?

It can be difficult to spot medication abuse, especially since most people can’t be at a nursing home every time medication is administered. Unfortunately, most cases of abuse in nursing homes either go unnoticed or unreported. It is incredibly important to watch for any changes in behavior. Some signs to be on the lookout for are:

  • Confusion or lethargy
  • Becoming shy or reclusive
  • Disorientation
  • Becoming withdrawn from family
  • Oversleeping
  • Unexplained physical or medical conditions
  • Uncharacteristic forgetfulness

Residents may not even be aware that they are being overly, or wrongfully medicated, especially if they have dementia. If your loved one has changed drastically, it is imperative that you talk with the staff of the nursing home to find out what it is going on. If that doesn’t help the situation, reaching out to an experienced nursing home abuse attorney may be the next best step.

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Who Is Liable?

A nursing home can be held legally responsible when negligence or abuse on the premises causes harm to a resident. You may be entitled to file a lawsuit against the facility if your elderly loved one has been the victim of medication abuse. A nursing home that accepts Medicare or Medicaid must follow federal regulations, which expressly prohibit chemical restraint, except under certain limited circumstances. A nursing home that violates these regulations is liable to be sued for damages.

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Why You Need an Attorney for a Nursing Home Medication Abuse Case

When a resident is injured in a nursing home, it is not always clear how the injury occurred and who is responsible. Evidence may be incomplete or self-serving for the nursing home. Our experienced personal injury lawyer has the knowledge, skills, and resources to thoroughly investigate medication abuse, obtain and preserve evidence, identify responsible parties, build a strong case based on the facts, and hold responsible parties accountable under the law.

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Connect with Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP

Medication abuse in nursing homes is a serious matter. When elderly residents with dementia are overmedicated with antipsychotic drugs, it not only robs them of their quality of life but also increases their risk of death, per FDA warnings. If you suspect your loved one is a victim of medication abuse in a New Mexico nursing home, it is essential that you take action right away. Call us today for a free consultation. We will answer your questions, even if we don’t take your case.

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