Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Use of "Chemical Restraints" in Nursing Homes

It is an unfortunate reality that due to some medical conditions nursing home residents can become aggressive and pose a threat to other residents, staff and even themselves. Nursing homes and doctors use a number of interventions, procedures and devices used to deal with a problem, to deal with these situations. One controversial intervention is the use of restraints. Traditionally restraints were physical ones such as belts, safety-bars, and straight-jackets used to secure a resident in a non-threatening position.

However, the use of "chemical restraints" has became widespread. "Chemical restraints" are not physical, rather it is the use of anti-seizure, anti-psychotic, and sedative drugs to subdue a resident.
The ease of use of prescription drugs as chemical restraints creates the potential for widespread abuse. Not only is the unwarranted administration of prescription drugs harder to detect than the improper use of physical restraints, but when used incorrectly chemical restraints have greater potential to cause serious injuries and in some cases even death.

Federal Laws prohibit the use of inappropriate chemical restraints on nursing home patients unless it is truly necessary to treat a medial condition.
However, these very laws have often failed to adequately protect nursing home patients because they not mandate sufficient practical regulations for those who actually come into contact with nursing home patients, and unfortunately, the pattern of overuse of chemical restraints is still widespread.

The laws do not properly regulate the doctors who prescribe drugs to nursing home patients. Before a new drug is introduced into the marketplace, the Food and Drug Administration undertakes clinical tests to determine whether that drug is safe. Based upon these clinical trials, the FDA then decides whether to approve that drug, and specifically what specific conditions it should be used for. Under current law, drug manufactures can neither promote any unapproved uses nor include those uses in any of the instructions. However, the laws do not prevent doctors from prescribing the drug for these unapproved uses, in fact that practice (known as “off-label” prescription) is common. Second, the laws do not adequately supervise the nursing home staff. So long as a doctor has given a valid prescription, nursing home staff can administer the drug without getting further approval from either the doctor, and in some cases the patient. This lack of oversight creates a real potential for the abuse of nursing homes residents.

If you have any questions regarding this post or an issue involving Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect, please contact Illinois Nursing Home Attorney Mike Keating at 312-208-7702 or All initial consultations are confidential and free.