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The Dangers of Opioid Use in Nursing Homes

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The opioid epidemic is not limited to any one age group, region or ethnicity. It is pervasive throughout the country and affects even the elderly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

According to The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, and the drugs were responsible for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016 alone. As such, CMS has been striving to limit the number of prescribed opioids in the U.S. by encouraging doctors to prescribe such drugs only when the benefits outweigh the risks and by promoting the use of non-opioid pain treatments.

Over-Prescribing Opioids

Just last year, one Knoxville, Tennessee nurse practitioner was subject to a medical discipline trial after prescribing one patient 51 pills a day, equaling enough milligrams to kill the patient. State records showed a consistent, undeniable trend of over-prescribing opioids and other drugs, yet despite this, the nurse practitioner kept her nursing license and still works in Knoxville-area clinics.

Sadly, over-prescribing opioids happens everywhere, even in nursing homes. The elderly, who often experience high levels of pain and anxiety, are given opioids to relieve unpleasant symptoms, yet not without a cost.

Apart from addiction and overdosing, opioids often lead to further complications for nursing home residents, including incontinence, more frequent falls and a reduction in activities of daily living, which diminishes a resident’s overall well-being. Furthermore, the adverse effects are responsible for higher rates of hospital stays and readmission.

Opioid Theft

In addition to over-prescription, addiction, and overdosing, opioid theft remains a serious threat in nursing homes. Oftentimes, overworked and underpaid care workers find relatively easy opportunities to take an extra pill or two from a dementia patient’s pill bottle.

A 41-year-old nurse in Wisconsin entered Alford pleas to one felony and one misdemeanor last October after stealing opioids and pain medications, including Oxycodone and Morphine, from the Wisconsin Veterans Home. Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence.

Medication theft can leave patients susceptible to incredible amounts of pain and discomfort from the missed doses. Such actions, along with the over-prescription of opioids, may be forms of nursing home abuse that require legal help.

Reducing the Use of Opioids in Nursing Homes and Protecting Residents

In 2016, the organization Atom Alliance enlisted six nursing homes in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky to participate in a study to reduce opioid use. By the end of the study, the six facilities boasted a 12 percent reduction in opioid use and a 3.5 person decrease in incontinent residents, which improved their overall quality of life.

One way to reduce over-prescription in nursing homes is to limit opioid prescriptions to cases where the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Doctors and nurse practitioners are encouraged to administer low doses over brief periods of time. Any extended use of opioids should be avoided, if possible.

To reduce theft, it is recommended that medications stay locked in a room without windows. Keys to the medication room should be kept in the administration office, not at the nurse’s station. The implementation of security cameras can further discourage employees from stealing.

Keeping residents safe in nursing homes is the facility’s number one priority and a family’s primary concern. Ask your loved one if there have been any changes to his or her medication regimen to identify any possible signs of theft or opioid abuse. If either is suspected, reach out to the correct authorities and medical personnel to receive the right kind of help.

Find Attorneys That Can Help

At Jehl Law Group, we have seen first hand the devastating effects of medication mismanagement and the pain that can cause a loved one. If you or someone you know has experienced opioid abuse or other forms of medication mismanagement in a long-term care facility, we would be glad to help you fight for justice. We have years of experience successfully winning big verdicts for our clients, and we don’t get paid until and unless you do. Don’t wait to get help. Call us today at (901) 322-4232 for a free, confidential consultation.