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Feds Urge Cuts in Use of Anti-Psychotic Drugs for Seniors

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 19, 2012
  • Last week, jurors in an Arkansas state court determined that Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary engaged in false or deceptive acts when it sent letters to 6,000 doctors saying its drug Risperdal was safer than competing drugs. The state wants to fine the pharmaceutical company $1.25 billion and awaits a judge's determination. This is the third verdict against J&J on this issue, following decisions in Louisiana and South Carolina. State officials said J&J pushed the drug for unapproved uses in the elderly even after being told by federal regulators to stop.
  • States and advocacy groups are getting involved as well. The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform issued a report, "In a Stupor: What California’s Antipsychotic Drug Collaborative Reveals About Illegal Nursing Home Drugging," documenting that one in four nursing home residents receives anti-psychotic drugs for purposes the FDA does not approve.


In a commentary last May, Inspector General Daniel Levinson wrote, "the most potentially troubling finding of the study is this: Researchers found that 88% of the time, these drugs were prescribed for elderly people with dementia," an unapproved use, and the very population at increased risk of death from these drugs. And, he added, "Many pharmaceutical companies have improperly promoted these drugs to doctors and nursing homes for years."

The challenges of managing dementia patients is something most of us would rather not think about. But these reports present a stunning array of issues that compel us to take another look.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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