Fake Diagnoses Lead To Real Harms With Antipsychotic Drugs

“The government and the industry are obscuring the true rate of [Antipsychotic] drug use on vulnerable residents,” declared The New York Times in a recent report that found nursing home doctors too often falsely diagnose senior citizen patients with schizophrenia. In doing so, doctors justify prescribing powerful and even debilitating Antipsychotic drugs as a way of sedating patients and making them easier to manage.

The Times used the anecdotal example of one David Blakeney, a 63-year-old man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed Haldol — a potent Antipsychotic drug that can have serious side effects — despite the fact that there was no evidence Blakeney suffered from the condition.

What’s more, as the Times reports, “risks to patients treated with [Antipsychotics] are so high that nursing homes must report to the government how many of their residents are on these potent medications.” However, the prescription of Antipsychotics to patients with certain conditions, namely schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, and Huntington’s disease does not have to be reported to the public. Therefore, doctors in nursing homes can use a phony diagnosis of any of the above conditions to prescribe Antipsychotics as a way to reduce overhead costs and keep staffing demands relatively low.

The Times was able to uncover information on how many patients are prescribed Antipsychotic drugs. No less than 21% of nursing home residents are prescribed the drugs despite the fact that the conditions they treat are not all that common; schizophrenia, for example, occurs in barely 1% of the population.

Why Elderly Fall Risk Has Skyrocketed

Antipsychotic drugs like Haldol aren’t the only kind being heavily prescribed to senior citizens. The Washington Post has reported that, “experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons.”

This phenomenon is having a marked effect on health risks to senior citizens, and it’s not good. Roughly 94% of elderly Americans were prescribed drugs that could raise the risk of a fall in 2017; this is a significant increase from the 57% of elderly Americans that were prescribed such drugs in 1999.

Some demographics are disproportionately prescribed drugs that could induce falls. The Post has shared that, “women were more likely than men to be prescribed drugs that raised the risk of falls, especially African American women … followed by White females, African American men and then White men.”

Seniors Can’t Afford The Drugs They Do Need

While there’s no question that senior citizens have been the victims of overprescription, there are many medications that are medically necessary for this vulnerable population. However, far too many of the elderly are having trouble affording the medications that they do need.

The results of one study on the subject were summarized by Reuters; the outlet reported that, “14% of the urban patients and 26% of the rural patients [studied] said they didn’t always comply with doctors’ instructions for taking medicine because of the cost.” This held true despite the fact that almost all of the senior citizens studied had a form of health insurance.

There is an effort to lower prescription drug prices brewing in Congress; members of both parties have called for reform, and some legislators are pushing to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Many powerful drug executives have opposed the plan, however, with some claiming that their industry would be devastated as a result.

“It’s going to wipe [some pharmaceutical companies] off the face of the earth,” said David Ricks to reporters; Ricks is the CEO of Eli Lilly and Company, a pharmaceutical company that had a global revenue of almost $25 billion last year.

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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