As their name implies, antipsychotic drugs are used for the management and treatment of severe psychological conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But in staggering numbers at nursing homes across the country, these powerful medications are being administered improperly – and often without the consent of residents or their families – as a “convenient” means of sedating residents or making them easier for staff to manage.

Disturbing Findings


Authors of a report from Human Rights Watch concluded that nursing homes in the U.S. are unnecessarily giving antipsychotic drugs to an estimated 179,000 residents every week. “They Want Docile” How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia  found that the overprescribing of these drugs is particularly problematic for the large proportion of the nursing home population dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, conditions for which antipsychotics are not usually appropriate.

The report included interviews with nursing home residents and family members who discussed the effects of these inappropriate medications, including sedation, fatigue, cognitive decline, and a frustrating inability to communicate.

Illegitimate Reasons for Nursing Homes’ Use of Antipsychotic Drugs

The insidiousness of the problem is that these debilitating effects are precisely why nursing homes are providing antipsychotics. Rather than giving these medications for legitimate medical reasons, they are instead being used as a convenient, default means of managing “difficult” residents.

As the report states:

Such use of antipsychotics and other psychoactive drugs — either for medically unnecessary purposes or as a “chemical restraint” — violates human rights norms and federal regulations. Not only is it unethical to give people drugs that they don’t need or don’t want, but also these medicines put people’s lives at risk: The US Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to place the strongest possible warning against the drugs’ use in older people with dementia because they significantly increase the risk of death.

Human Rights Watch attributed this overmedication epidemic to a number of factors, including inadequate caregiver training, insufficient staffing, and a lack of regulatory enforcement.

Not only are nursing homes using antipsychotics as a way to make residents docile, compliant, and easier to manage, they often do so without the required informed consent of the resident or family members. As the report notes, “facilities that purport to seek consent fail to provide sufficient information for consent to be informed; pressure individuals to give consent; or fail to have a free and informed consent procedure and documentation system in place.”

Nursing Home Abuse & Medical Malpractice

The improper and unnecessary administration of antipsychotic drugs without the consent of the resident is a form of nursing home abuse and medical malpractice. As succinctly stated in the Human Rights Watch report, “the drugs’ use as a chemical restraint – for staff convenience or to discipline or punish a resident – could constitute abuse under domestic law and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under international law.”

At Sommers Schwartz, we believe such mistreatment of seniors is abhorrent and inexcusable. Our Medical Malpractice attorneys don’t stand for seniors being abused or neglected by those entrusted with their care.

If you believe that you or a loved one has been improperly given antipsychotic medication in a nursing home or assisted living facility or have suffered from other forms of nursing home abuse and neglect, please contact us today.