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Drugging Our Loved Ones to Death: Combatting the Use of Antipsychotic Drugs as Chemical Restraints

Bedridden man with medications

AARP Foundation works to protect low-income older adults from the devastating consequences of social isolation, including bringing legal action against nursing facilities that abuse or neglect residents.

AARP Foundation is working to eradicate the use of chemical restraints in nursing facilities. According to Human Rights Watch, each week, health care providers at nursing facilities give antipsychotic drugs to approximately 200,000 residents without medical justification. Often, the nursing facilities administer the drugs without informing the residents and their caregivers of their dangers. They use them as chemical restraints to control disruptive or self-harming behavior, not to treat a medical condition. 

This practice is abusive to all nursing facility residents, but can be fatal for residents with dementia. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration requires that these drugs include a Black Box warning — the agency’s most dire warning — cautioning that these drugs pose an increased risk of mortality in elderly people with dementia. Medicare and Medicaid programs prohibit the use of chemical restraints, yet this abusive practice persists.

For many years, AARP Foundation has fought to end the use of chemical restraints by litigating cases against abusive health care providers. 


AARP Foundation Cases:

Levine v. Ventura Convalescent Hospital (Press Release) In 2012, AARP Foundation attorneys filed a first-of-its-kind class action suit against Ventura Convalescent Hospital for using antipsychotic drugs without the informed consent of residents or family members. In 2014, the nursing facility settled with current and former residents, agreeing to an outside monitor to ensure residents or family members understood the impact of powerful antipsychotic medications and could refuse to have such drugs administered. The AARP Bulletin wrote a story about the Levine litigation and about the health crisis that such drugs pose for people with dementia.

AARP Foundation attorneys continue to work on cases related to this issue:

Pierce v. Genesis Healthcare,  (Complaint) (Press Release)

Keller v. Life Care Centers of America (Complaint)

Both of the above two cases have settled.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform CANHR v. Smith

Sharing Symposium Insights

In 2018, AARP Foundation convened a symposium where experts, advocates, and attorneys in health care, elder care, law enforcement, and public policy joined together to discuss the issue of antipsychotic drug administration in nursing facilities. View the session videos below. 

Prescription pill picture

Symposium Opening Comments

Inappropriate Antipsychotic Administration, Introduction by Lisa Marsh Ryerson, AARP Foundation President  | Watch Video (5:25)

Pharmaceutical studies

Report on the Dangers of these Drugs

Bethany Brown, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, relates how nursing facilities overmedicate people with dementia. Watch Video (17:56)

Chemical restraint

Combatting Chemical Restraints

AARP Foundation Attorney, Kelly Bagby, discusses litigation related to combatting the use of antipsychotic drugs with people in nursing facilities who have dementia, with client Robert Pierce.   Watch Video (15:28)

Empowering advocates

Empowering Advocates

Lori Smetanka, Executive Director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care,  on how family members, citizen advocates, and long-term care ombudsmen can secure appropriate treatment for people in nursing facilities who have dementia.  Watch Video (16:01)

Research picture


Elizabeth Carter, a senior health services research advisor with AARP Public Policy Institute and Sarah Lock, Senior Vice President for Policy, discuss using research on dementia care to influence provider behavior.  Watch Video (15:23)

Methodology best practices


Led by AARP Foundation's Kelly Bagby, this panel outlines practical strategies to promote behavioral interventions and end the misuse of antipsychotic drugs. Watch Video (45:36)

Closing Symposium Remarks  William Alvarado Rivera, Senior Vice President for Litigation Watch Video (1:30)



Nursing Home Abuse Podcasts

Episode 107: "Why do nursing homes improperly medicate residents?" AARP Foundation Senior Attorney, Kelly Bagby discusses improper administration of medications to nursing facility residents. Listen (41:48)

Episode 78: "Meet an AARP Foundation Legal Advocate." AARP Foundation Senior Attorney, Iris Gonzalez discusses the mission of AARP Foundation and how it intersects with protecting the interests of the vulnerable population in nursing facilities. Listen (31:10)

Please let us know if you are aware of a health care provider who is using antipsychotic drugs as chemical restraints.

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