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Join CANHR’s 2010 Campaign to End Drugging
of California Nursing Home Residents

In the last issue of the CANHR Advocate, we announced our 2010 Campaign to End the Inappropriate Drugging of California Nursing Home Residents. As the first stage of our campaign, we are pleased to announce the release of our consumer guide on taking a stand against the inappropriate use of psychoactive drugs in nursing homes. The guide is called “Toxic Medicine: What You Should Know to Fight the Misuse of Psychoactive Drugs in California Nursing Homes.”

The guide is 17 pages long and covers all the basics regarding psychoactive drugs in nursing homes, describing their uses and side effects and examining the applicable laws. More importantly, the guide gives practical tips for nursing home residents or their family members to prevent misuse of psychoactive drugs.

Almost 60% of all California nursing home residents receive psychoactive drugs. Many of these drugs are antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs designed to blunt the workings of the brain. Antipsychotic drugs come with Black Box warning labels, an FDA-required label to tell consumers that the drugs increase the risk of death for elderly people with dementia. Additionally, the antipsychotics are most often used “off-label,” meaning they are not FDA approved for the conditions for which they are being prescribed. In other words, the drugs come with proven risks and unproven benefits.

There is rampant misuse of psychoactive drugs in California nursing homes. The overuse stems from many reasons. One reason is the massive marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical companies that reap incredible profits from the sale of these drugs. The marketing efforts are often illegal. Last year pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly settled criminal and civil charges against it by agreeing to pay a record $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties for illegally marketing Zyprexa (an antipsychotic drug) for unapproved use by elders and children. (Also, please see the article in Long Term Care News regarding Johnson and Johnson’s alleged illegal kickback scheme for prescriptions of Risperdal, a popular antipsychotic.)

A second reason why psychoactive drugs are overused in nursing homes is because they are perceived as much more cost-effective than personal care. Drug costs are often footed by the government as part of Medicare or Medi-Cal benefits; labor costs, however are paid directly out of a nursing home’s revenue. Therefore, nursing homes profit when drugs are used as a substitute for care needed by residents. Drugged-up residents are far more sedate and less demanding of care than other residents.

Another major factor is the very poor enforcement of laws against drugging. The Department of Public Health is supposed to closely monitor the use of psychoactive drugs and ensure they are prescribed only when clinically indicated and as a last resort when other, less-harmful measures have been attempted and failed. Additionally, the Department should be verifying that all residents or their legal representatives are giving informed consent to psychoactive drugs. Despite its obligations, the Department has not seriously addressed the systemic overuse of these drugs. In the past decade, the Department has issued fewer than ten citations to nursing homes for violations of informed consent laws.

Our campaign will focus on raising awareness about the overdrugging of nursing home residents and what can be done to stop it. As part of the campaign, CANHR is preparing a new section of its website that will be devoted to this topic. Among other information, it will include facility-specific drugging information, a blog hosted by CANHR staff, and extensive resources on this problem.

You will be able to join the campaign by signing an online petition to the Governor urging a crackdown on those responsible for this problem. Look for an announcement from CANHR soon.

Join the campaign and spread the word. With your help, the drugging epidemic can be stopped.

For more information about the campaign, please contact CANHR staff members Mike Connors ( or Tony Chicotel (

Page Last Modified: December 20, 2013