Drug Detox Needed for Elderly Patients Held in 'Chemical Restraints'

Drug Detox Needed for Elderly Patients Held in 'Chemical Restraints'

If you have an aging parent or relative in a nursing home or are caring for them at home, you might want to take a closer look at the drugs elderly patients are being prescribed. A federal study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found a third of nursing home patients are being fed powerful antipsychotic drugs, and nearly 21% of those have no diagnosis of psychosis. The only reason they're being drugged is for the convenience of the nurses and staff. The patients are being held in 'chemical restraints,' and the only hope for them is a carefully monitored medical drug detox program.

What's even more disturbing is that this nasty practice continues in spite of a "black box" warning from the FDA that elderly dementia patients using antipsychotics face a higher risk of death. The drugs are dangerous enough for younger adults, teens, and children, but the elderly face an even greater risk of strokes and debilitating side-effects. All the more reason to get them off the drugs as soon as possible with a medically supervised drug detox program.

Additionally, these drugs - called 'atypical' antipsychotics - were intended to treat schizophrenia, and have never been tested or approved for use in the elderly or for age-related dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These are 'off-label' prescriptions, legal, but frowned on by many physicians and researchers. Christie Teigland, director of informatics research for the New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, told the Wall Street Journal that some facilities have as many as 60% to 70% of their dementia patients on antipsychotic medication. These drugs are not used for treatment, they're used to immobilize and control patients so the staff can 'maintain order.'

"You walk into facilities where you see residents slumped over in their wheelchairs," Teigland said, "their heads are hanging, and they're out of it, and that is unacceptable."

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is raking in an estimated $6 to $7 billion a year - up from around $2 billion in 2000 and $5.4 billion in 2005. With a 14% share of the total Medicaid drug market - up from 10% in 2000 - antipsychotics are a huge and growing piece of the pie for Big Pharma. Just compare the $5.4 billion spent by Medicaid on antipsychotics in 2005 to the $1.58 billion on AIDS drugs and $2.1 billion on cholesterol-lowering drugs. Who would have thought that America's elderly would ever represent such a huge market? Big Pharma thought of it, and they're exploiting it for all it's worth. And as a result, a huge sector of the American population needs drug detox to get off these drugs safely.

Only a change in the laws that allow such practices will correct a system where doctors can prescribe drugs off-label - or even on-label - as 'chemical straightjackets' for their own convenience. These drugs turn the elderly into servile robots and can kill them prematurely. The sooner they get drug detox the better their chances of staying alive.

People with elderly relatives or friends being cared for in nursing homes or at home should take a closer look at what medications their loved ones are being prescribed. If they are being given antipsychotics, consider getting them through a medically supervised drug detox program so they can get off the drugs safely. Just because a drug quiets a person down doesn't mean the drug is making them feel better, or that's it is of any benefit.

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