Drug Injury Lawyers Warn of the Dangers of Overmedicating Vulnerable Patients

November 29, 2011

991548_prescription_bottle_-_blank_label.jpg

A new report by the Wall Street Journal details a troubling epidemic that is putting millions of prescription drug patients at risk. Research shows a significant increase in the number of Americans taking powerful antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs, despite the fact that some of these patients have no psychiatric diagnosis. Drug injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are concerned with the serious complications and potentially fatal side effects that can result from overmedication, particularly in cases involving children and the elderly.
The latest pharmacy data shows that overall use of psychiatric drugs grew more than 20 percent in the last decade. At least one out of every five adults in this country is now taking at least one type of behavioral health medication, and the trend extends to all age groups. These medications are bringing in billions of dollars of year for the pharmaceutical industry and leading to serious adverse effects in patients nationwide.

A major area of growth involved the use of drugs for adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Although diagnoses typically occur at childhood, prescriptions for ADHD drugs such as Vyvanse and Concerta have more than tripled since 2001 among adults aged 20 to 44. Drug makers explain the increase by pointing to aggressive marketing campaigns, which have increased awareness about adult ADHD. However, the rise in potential side effects is extremely worrisome. High cholesterol, weight gain, and diabetes are all associated with these drugs, and careful monitoring is needed to ensure patient safety. Unfortunately, drug companies may omit or at least downplay information about these serious side effects while highlighting more positive information in order to appeal to consumers. This is a dangerous marketing practice that may subject pharmaceutical companies to liability. The law requires that drug manufacturers exercise due care, which includes a duty to warn of the dangers of its drug products. If this duty of care is violated, compensation may be available to patients who are harmed by use of the drug.

ADHD drugs are not the only type of prescription drugs that lead to serious side effects. Evidence continues to grow about possible complications involving all types of psychiatric drugs, especially when taken by young people and the elderly. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a black box warning, alerting consumers about the potential for increased suicidal thoughts among children and teens using antidepressants. To minimize these effects, medical experts generally recommend a combination of psychotherapy and medication or lifestyle changes for adolescents diagnosed with depression. Antidepressant drugs should not be used as a "quick-fix," but prescribed only after careful consideration of the adverse side effects they may cause.

The FDA also warned about the increased risk of death for elderly dementia patients taking certain antipsychotics. Unapproved uses of many atypical antipsychotic drugs such as Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Risperdal can cause serious health complications in elderly patients. Although these drugs are approved to treat mental illnesses associated with bipolar disorder, they are not approved for treating dementia for patients 65 and older. This type of "off-label" use is causing needless deaths among the most vulnerable members of our population. Seniors are also highly prone to falls and other physical injuries that are even more likely to occur when powerful prescription drugs interfere with their balance.

A drug injury lawsuit can provide a remedy for people of all ages who have been injured by prescription drugs. If the overmedication occurred in a nursing home or assisted living facility, doctors, nurses, and the nursing home itself can be held responsible when harm results. A prescribing physician may also be liable for deviating from the standard of care by overmedicating a patient. If you or a loved one has been injured by a prescription medication, it's important to contact an experienced drug side effect lawyer immediately, because there is a statutorily limited period of time in which a lawsuit can be filed to protect your legal rights.