by Anthony Chicotel, CANHR Staff Attorney
In 2009, CANHR sponsored SB 303, a bill that codified California’s informed consent regulations regarding the use of psychotropic medications in nursing homes. Dr. Karl Steinberg, a familiar name to nursing home advocates, recently claimed that SB 303 “would have virtually criminalized use of antipsychotics in nursing homes except under very stringent circumstances.” This characterization is flat wrong.
SB 303 had no criminal provisions. Nor did it have any provisions prohibiting physicians or nursing homes from using antipsychotic medications. SB 303 was strictly concerned with assuring that informed consent was given prior to the non-emergency use of psychotropic medications. The bill required nursing home residents or their representatives receive information about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a proposed psychotropic drug. Residents and their representatives would have to be told if a prescribed antipsychotic drug had a Black Box warning label mandated by the FDA. Nursing homes would have to verify informed consent was obtained prior to administering psychotropic drugs.
In other words, SB 303 simply codified the provision of information that is very likely already required under the common law principles of informed consent and the nursing home residents’ bill of rights. What is so wrong about telling people that the pills they are taking for “treatment” may double their risk of death?
No Dr. Steinberg, SB 303 did not virtually criminalize use of antipsychotics in nursing homes. Quite the contrary. The real criminal activity here is administering lethal mind-altering drugs off-label to control “problem” residents without telling them. That’s called battery. And it happens all the time in California nursing homes.