There are plenty of things to look forward to when approaching old age: wisdom from life experience, frolicking grandchildren, senior discounts, and … copious amounts of antipsychotic drugs? According to the Wall Street Journal’s Lucette Lagnado, as many as 30 percent of nursing-home residents in the U.S. are receiving antipsychotic medications, and in many cases, the drugs are used to treat patients who show signs of disruptive behavior related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Lagnado’s piece addresses the root causes of what experts say is a harmful scenario in which seniors are being over-prescribed powerful medications at the risk of their health.
The article describes how antipsychotic medications with heavy sedative effects have in some ways replaced methods deemed inappropriate for dealing with rowdy seniors, such as physical restraint. Lagnado reports that in many cases the use of antipsychotic drugs are creating more health risks for patients, as the drugs “can trigger strokes, induce body tremors, fuel weight gain and affect an elderly person’s gait, increasing their chances of falling.” Lagnado’s report also shows that any implied dangers of the drugs have not offset company earnings. Indeed, sales of the drugs have skyrocketed over the past five years. Drugs like Seroquel and Risperdal have become pharmaceutical “blockbusters” taking in $11.7 billion in sales just last year.
Lagnado also reports on the marketing campaigns behind the drugs, and the backlash by consumer advocates: Last month, the Arkansas attorney general filed suit against Johnson & Johnson for creating a “false and misleading campaign” to promote Risperdol to the elderly.