Antipsychotics as a Deadly Weapon

February 22, 2010 at 11:03 am

While the use of antipsychotics as chemical restraints is nothing new, charging health care professionals with assault with a deadly weapon for their misuse is. From the LA Times:

In an elder abuse case described by one investigator as the most outrageous he has ever seen, three former top managers at a Kern County nursing home have been arrested in the deaths of three residents who allegedly were given needless doses of psychotropic medications.

The state attorney general’s office contended in a criminal complaint that more than 20 residents at a skilled nursing center run by the Kern Valley Healthcare District were drugged “for staff convenience.” Many of them experienced side effects that included dramatic weight loss, slurred speech, tremors, loss of cognition and even psychosis, according to the complaint.

Arraignment is scheduled this morning for the center’s one-time medical director, Dr. Hoshang M. Pormir, former nursing director Gwen D. Hughes and former chief pharmacist Debbi C. Hayes. They were jailed in Bakersfield on Wednesday.

“These people maliciously violated the trust of their patients by holding them down and forcibly administering psychotropic medications if they dared to question their care,” state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said.

All three have been charged with elder abuse. Hughes and Hayes, who are accused of administering shots by force and without consent, also face charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

Three residents died and many more were drugged into a stupor in the interest of “staff convenience, ” truly being treated as members of a disposable class. I think you trade in convenience when you take on the task of caring for the elderly. When being vocal is read as being disruptive and being in disagreement is being combative and your rights have faded away over time, you don’t stand a chance. Questioning care is the cardinal sin of forced treatment but no one admits it — and it is force regardless of the age or state of mind of the patient/victim. Never mind the inherent danger and barbarism of forced drugging or that people have every right and reason to be unhappy separate from the lives and people they’ve known. It doesn’t matter that the drugs don’t make you happy, only quiet. The end result is the same — compliance. While this type of “care” is not universal, it is rampant and often with a kinder, gentler face making it harder to see. Hopefully, with cases like this coming to light and to trial people start to wake up to the scale of such abuses.

The complaint paints a bleak picture of a facility dominated by nursing director Hughes, 55, who is accused of seeking to drug all but the most docile residents. Medical director Pormir, 48, allegedly rubber-stamped Hughes’ orders for medication, failed to examine patients and was “either willfully or naively ignorant” of his proper role, according to the complaint. Pharmacist Hayes, 51, told investigators that she went along because Hughes had wide experience in psychiatric hospitals, the complaint says.

Hughes had been fired from a convalescent home in Fresno in 1999 for allegedly overmedicating patients there, according to state officials.

If Hughes was fired for overmedicating what may be the most overmedicated group of people in the US, she had to be doing the same thing then as now and should have been stripped of her license ten years ago. Clearly ten years and a dismissal have had little effect on her. While the other two might claim to be ignorant and deferential at best, any human being half paying attention can see when drugs are being administered carelessly, let alone aggressively and punitively — and when lives depend on what you do, you don’t get to plead ignorance.

At the Kern Valley facility in Lake Isabella, she ordered medications when the elderly residents — most of whom had dementia or Alzheimer’s — glared at her or spoke disrespectfully, according to Samuel Obair, a pharmacist who helped in the state’s investigation.

“It is beyond appalling to me,” he told state officials. “I have never gone into a facility and seen psychotropic medications and mood stabilizers . . . being used on so many patients, and so blatantly” without a legitimate diagnosis or careful documentation.

God help the generation that made us when they spend their last days being drugged — some of them to death — for not bowing and scraping when a self exalted staffer, just a kid in their eyes, barks orders, or if they don’t like the food, their roommate or knowing that they are at the last long portion of their lives. At what point in one’s life does it become mandatory to be compliant without exception? I hope for the sake of all who counted on these three for care, that they are held accountable. Also, I can’t help but think that if people can see drugs as weapons, there is a potential for greater implications in the future. If forced drugging is an assault to one body or twenty, it is an assault to millions.

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California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)

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