The Star of Ontario conducted an investigation into the usage of potentially lethal pharmaceutical drugs. According to the survey, some doctors are continuing to use the dangerous drugs, despite the fact that many of them come with a “black-box” warning that the patient taking the pill has about a 60 percent increased risk of death after taking it. In 40 Ontarian nursing homes surveyed, more than half of the residents were on the anti-psychotic drugs, and in about 300 homes, more than one third of residents were on them. One of the nursing homes surveyed even uses the pills on 75 percent of its residents.
The pills used in the nursing homes include olanzapine, quetiapine, and about 10 other dangerous anti-psychotic drugs. These drugs come with serious side effects, including diabetes, hyperglycemia, high fever, intestinal obstruction, and rigid muscles. Though olanzapine and quetiapine were approved by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mania in 2004 and 2005, the drugs have never been approved by Health Canada for use on people suffering with dementia. Canadian doctors were warned in 2007 by the auditor general of overuse of the anti-psychotic drugs.
One family told The Star that one of their loved ones died after the nursing home she was in administered olanzapine to her to “quiet her down.” The caregivers did so without explaining the risk to her husband who says he never would have consented to it had he known of the drug’s dangerous potential.
So if anti-psychotic drugs like olanzapine and quetiapine are obviously dangerous, and it seems as if doctors are aware of the risks that come with prescribing the pills, what can be done to prevent patients from having the drugs administered to them? Some suggest that doctors should be made to warn the patients receiving the drugs or their substitute decision makers so that they can consent to taking the drugs or refuse them. Others suggest that nursing homes should increase staff numbers and provide their caregivers with in-depth training regarding care for dementia patients. Dr. Andrea Moser says that work has already been done to limit the use of anti-psychotic drugs in nursing homes. She told The Star, “We’re making progress. We still have a long way to go.”