Medical science is progressing at an astonishing pace. Every year, there are new medications to treat serious conditions and prevent others entirely. As a result, we’re living longer than ever before. But because many ailments only develop over time, our longer lives have an odd side effect.

Medications extend our lifespan, but the older we get, the more medications we need. It’s understandable then that prescription drugs are central to the work done in nursing homes.

Reducing Independence: The Dangers Of Chemical Restraint

In a recent article, we wrote about the misuse of bed rails, which is still common in many elder care facilities. If bed rails are not strictly necessary to prevent falls, they’re banned outright. Why? Because they reduce a resident’s independence, making it difficult or impossible to get out of bed and walk around. Nursing homes can even be held legally accountable for using restraints when they are not necessary.what is chemical restraint

Nursing homes have a duty to treat patients properly, according to their needs. This isn’t surprising; it’s common sense. But one of their other duties isn’t as self-evident. In addition to treating medical conditions appropriately, a nursing home’s staff has a duty to maintain patients’ independence as much as possible.

As we noted earlier, effective prescriptions are one of the greatest achievements of modern society. But every drug comes with its own set of risks and dangers, which we usually think of as “side effects.”

What Is Chemical Restraint?

Chemical restraint, the deliberate use of a drug to limit a patient’s freedom and movement, is another less-familiar danger implicit in prescription medication. Essentially, doctors or nursing home staff may actively “drug” a patient that they deem troublesome.

According to federal law, drugs can only be used for two reasons:

  1. to treat diagnosed medical conditions
  2. to prevent a patient from physically harming someone else or themselves

If nursing home staff use a medication to discipline patients or make their own lives easier, it’s illegal.

New York has its own specific set of regulations on chemical restraint:

  • Psychotropic drugs may not be used for disciplining patients.
  • Chemical restraint may not be used for the convenience of staff.
  • Psychotropic drugs can only be prescribed by a physician who details the condition the drug is meant to treat.
  • Psychotropic drugs cannot be prescribed until after alternative methods of treatment have been exhausted.
  • After prescription, physicians must attempt to discontinue the use of psychotropic drugs as soon as possible.

What Drugs Are Used To Restrain Residents?

Psychotropic drugs, used to treat psychological illnesses, are the most common type used to restrain patients. These medications usually act on neurotransmitters in the brain, altering behavior, perception, sensation, mood, and awareness.

  • Antipsychotics, like Seroquel, Abilify, and Risperdal, are used to treat patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other severe psychological disorders. In part, they do this by sedating the patient and producing a calm state. But their sedative effect also makes them the most commonly-chosen chemical restraint.
  • Benzodiazepines, a class of drug that includes lorazepam, are used to treat anxiety and seizure disorders. With strong sedative effects, “benzos” can also be used to limit a nursing home patient’s movements.

According to the FDA, around 15,000 elder care facility residents die annually due to the unnecessary administration of anti-psychotics alone.

Is It Always Banned?

In limited cases, chemical restraints are legal, but this is still controversial. Doctors may be allowed to restrain patients if their actions pose a danger to other residents, nursing home staff, or themselves. But crucially, the resident must consent to the chemical restraint first.

Contact A Nursing Home Lawyer In NYC

Chemical restraint is almost always a grave violation of rights, and your loved one deserves better. If you believe that someone is being unnecessarily restrained in any way, contact the nursing home lawyers at Banville Law. Discuss your case with our experienced attorneys in a free consultation, and learn whether you can pursue compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.