Local Woman Effects Change In State Drugging Rule

Calif. Dept. Of Health Changes Policy Regarding Antipsychotic Drugs

.submitbutton {text-align:center;}.storyAd{display:none;} In life, Dr. Keith Blair helped hundreds of patients as a dentist.

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In death, he may help thousands of Californians, and his daughter is making sure of it.

"The whole reason for doing all of this is I didn't want my father's death to be in vain," said Marian Hollingsworth.

What Hollingsworth is doing is holding Arbor Hills Nursing Center in La Mesa accountable. She claimed staff members gave her father a cocktail of unnecessary antipsychotic drugs.

Hollingsworth said Blair was not psychotic and the nursing home never asked permission to give him those drugs.

After her father's death and the discovery of his treatment, Hollingsworth complained to the state and insisted on being heard.

After 10News I-Team reports on Hollingsworth's efforts made the case public, the California Department of Public Health changed its policy. In an all-facilities letter to nursing homes (click here for letter), the department stated that before giving out mind-altering drugs, nursing homes need proof of informed consent, which is permission from the patient or the patient's power of attorney.

Before the change in policy, if a patient was admitted to a nursing home already on antipsychotics, the facility never needed to verify if consent was ever given.

"I know it will save lives in the long run, as long as people are aware that there are these laws, they can know to complain if there is a problem," said Hollingsworth.

Antipsychotics are especially dangerous for older adults with dementia, such as Blair. It doubles their risk of death and carries an FDA black box warning indicating this extreme risk.

It is not a new problem and it is not unknown within the health industry.

Dr. David Graham of the FDA testified in 2007 before a Congressional subcommittee and warned them that antipsychotics are too often given to seniors who don't need them.

"You've probably got 15,000 elderly people in nursing homes dying each year from the off-label use of antipsychotic medications," said Graham.

Dr. Daniel Sewell is a clinical professor of psychology and medical director of the University of California San Diego Senior Behavioral Health Program. He explained one reason antipsychotics may sometimes be given unnecessarily.

"There are instances where patients are on sedating psychiatric medication when they don't need to be because their medical assessment has not been optimal," said Sewell.

He advises family members to ask questions when antipsychotics are being considered.

"If you have an older member of your family who develops either a brand new behavioral symptom that they've never had before or maybe a preexisting symptom really rapidly worsens, the question that needs to be repeatedly asked until it's sufficiently answered is, 'Are they medically okay? And what have you done to prove they are medically OK?'" said Sewell.

He explained that sometimes an untreated medical condition can cause behavior that might be seen as "acting out."

"You need to say, well, could my mom or dad have a urinary tract infection? Could my mom or dad have pneumonia? How do you know that they don't? What have you done to assure me that their sudden increase in confusion is not related to the onset of pneumonia?" added Sewell.

In Blair's case, the state cited two hospitals and his La Mesa nursing home for deficiencies in his care.

"There still is quality of life for a lot of these patients and to drug them for the staff's convenience is unacceptable," said Hollingsworth.

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