Recognizing Medication Abuse in Nursing Homes

Medication AbuseUnfortunately, it is not an uncommon scenario to find out that a nursing home is overmedicating your family member or loved one. There may be various reasons behind this, but none of them are ethical. In fact, choosing to overmedicate an individual in a nursing home is considered nursing home abuse.

What is medication abuse?

Medication abuse is when an individual is given some type of medicine that they did not consent to or need to medically treat an injury, illness, disease, or condition. The most common type of medication abuse that occurs in nursing homes is overmedication. The term overmedication means that a person is being administered too much of a prescription drug that they take for a condition, or they are being given a form of medicine that they are not prescribed or need at all.

Why would a nursing home overmedicate a resident?

According to Human Rights Watch, nursing homes throughout the country regularly overmedicate residents with certain drugs “to control their behavior.” The most common types of drugs frequently given to individuals living in nursing homes are antipsychotic drugs. There have been rules and regulations put in place against nursing home employees doing this to residents, but it is still a common form of abuse found in various nursing homes around the United States.

There is no acceptable reason for employees choosing to overmedicate and force residents to take these drugs. In fact, the only typical reason found for employees using these medications in nursing home facilities is to make their shifts and handling certain residents an easier task.

Is overmedicating nursing home residents common?

Unfortunately, overmedicating nursing home residents is very common. As a matter of fact, it is believed that close to 180,000 residents are given antipsychotic drugs in American nursing homes about every week. To make this large number even worse, none of these individuals are diagnosed with any condition that requires these medications to be given.

What do antipsychotic medications do to people?

Antipsychotic medications are used to “treat psychosis-related conditions,” such as dementia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, delusional disorder, mania, delirium, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and more. According to, there are a variety of different side effects that individuals taking antipsychotics may experience. Here are some of the listed side effects:

  • Slowed reactions and thinking
  • Sluggish acting and feeling
  • Inability to rest/ restlessness
  • Constant shaking/ inability to stay still
  • Joint and muscle stiffness
  • Constant moving of the tongue, jaws, or mouth

How to recognize that your loved one could be a victim of medication abuse or overmedication in a nursing home

If you notice that your family member or loved one seems different, your mind may start to race. They may seem more tired, slower, less alert, or even have less energy, which are all common signs of being overmedicated. The following are a few of the warning signs that you should keep an eye out for:

  • Not being able to wake up or get out of bed
  • Continuing to sleep when you visit/ sleeping more than usual
  • Seeming less alert or withdrawn from the discussion or visit
  • Easily irritable or increased aggressiveness
  • Weak or groggy
  • Constantly in a state of confusion
  • Unable to balance or move
  • Unable to pay attention or have a conversation/ communicate

Most people describe individuals who are victims of medication abuse as zombie-like. They may walk and get around slowly as well as appear very sluggish. If you notice any of these warning signs, it is crucial that you find out what is going on. There is a good chance that your family member or loved one is being overmedicated, or there could be another issue that could be causing them to behave in this alarming manner.

What are the negative effects of overmedicating a person?

There are many negative effects of overmedicating a person with antipsychotic drugs, which include the development of:

  • Diabetes
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart conditions
  • Circulation issues
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Metabolism troubles
  • Sleep problems
  • Jaundice
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Depression
  • Aggressiveness
  • Infections
  • Rashes

A lot of times, residents who are being overmedicated cannot explain to you what is going on. They may be unaware that they are being given medications, or they simply are having a hard time communicating due to the medications. The Human Rights Watch explains that “antipsychotic drugs almost double the risk of death in older people.” Therefore, it may be up to you to determine what is going on, identify where the medications are coming from, and put a stop to it immediately. If your elderly relative continues to be given medication, their health and wellbeing may continue to decline.

What should I do if I believe that my elderly relative is being overmedicated?

If your elderly family member is in a nursing home and you suspect that they are being overmedicated, it is time for you to take action. First, you may want to bring this issue to the manager’s attention and let them know that you are looking into the problem. You will also want to ask for documentation showing every medication provided to your loved one. Once you look over the documentation, you should ask what the medications listed are for and why they were administered to your family member.

After you get your answers from the nursing home facility, it may be a good idea for you to take your elderly family member to a doctor or hospital along with the documentation. You will want to show the list of medications to the doctor, explain the symptoms and side effects that you have noticed among your loved one, and find out which medications were prescribed as well as which ones were not. The doctor will most likely be able to give you in-depth insight into what is going on with your elderly relative as well as what you can do to ensure that they are weaned off any unneeded medications. If it is found that your loved one is being overmedicated, it is crucial that you start looking for a new nursing home facility for them to transfer to right away. You will want to make sure that they are in a high-quality facility that does not use medications to control and suppress the behavior of residents.

Finding out that your family member is a victim of medication abuse is a traumatic, frustrating, and overwhelming experience. It is very sad and stressful to watch someone you love and care about be treated negatively in a facility that promised to care for them. At Garcia & Artigliere, we are ready and available to stand up and fight for you and your loved one going through this difficult situation. Please do not hesitate to give us a call or complete our contact form to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation today. Our team is located in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, and Phoenix.