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Questions Raised Over Antipsychotic Usage On Elderly
Groups Trying To Prevent Misuse Of Psychoactive Drugs On Elderly Patients San Diego
March 3, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- The 10News I-Team has learned many local skilled nursing facilities are using powerful drugs to control elderly patients' behavior.

Keith Blair suffered from mild dementia, and it wasn't until after his death that his daughter, Marian Hollingsworth, realized he'd been given antipsychotic drugs.

Read: Granite Hills Convalescent Hospital Response
Read: Antipsychotics Use At County Facilities

"It's a way of controlling them. It keeps him in bed," said Hollingsworth.

Until that realization, Hollingsworth was puzzled by her father's rapid deterioration. He had been given the powerful antispychotics Risperdal and Haldol without her permission.

"Antipsychotic drugs are for the treatment of mental illness, not dementia," said Tony Chicotel of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR). "And now we've got studies that show just horrific outcomes for people with dementia who take these drugs and that they're prescribed just as much as they ever were, if not more."

CANHR is trying to end the misuse of psychoactive drugs to control seniors. The group created a website which allows anyone to see how many patients are receiving psychoactive drugs at any skilled nursing facility in California.

Experts say while using these drugs is sometimes justified, there are dangers in their misuse.

"When you see nursing homes that are above 90 percent of their residents are receiving a psychotropic drug, you're wondering what the hell is going on there," said Chicotel.

To find out what was going on, the I-Team went to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and obtained specific information that tracks the mental and physical conditions of nursing home residents.

While some would expect the number of people with mental illness to be roughly equal to the number of people receiving antipsychotic medicines in nursing homes, the data obtained by the I-Team revealed differences at some facilities.

According to the data, Collingwood Manor in Chula Vista had 57 percent of its residents on antipsychotics, but only 17 percent had mental illness.

The data also showed Granite Hills Convalescent Hospital in El Cajon had 51 percent of its residents on antipsychotics, but only 11 percent had mental illness.

Vista Healthcare Center in Vista had 43 percent of its residents on antipsychotics, yet only 16 percent had mental illness, according to the data.

"I think it's indicative of a culture, an internal policy of some facilities to use drugs as a last resort and other facilities to use drugs as a first resort," said Chicotel.

In a letter, Granite Hills Convalescent Hospital responded to the I-Team's findings, and a facility administrator wrote that all antipsychotics are prescribed by a doctor, given with consent by the appropriate party and overseen by medical professionals.

Click on this link for information on antipsychotic use compared to the number of residents with mental illness at every skilled nursing facility in San Diego County.