Doctors bribed to put dementia patients on unapproved drugs

Doctors bribed to put dementia patients on unapproved drugs

The brand name Johnson & Johnson likely brings up warm and fuzzy images associated with baby powder and tear-free baby shampoo. But no amount of tear-free formula can keep the J&J execs from crying over their latest round of bad press and falling stocks—and they’ve got no one but themselves to blame.

This supposedly squeaky clean company has been accused of climbing in bed with the nation’s largest nursing home pharmacy, Omnicare. Two former Omincare employees are blowing the whistle on J&J, claiming that the company spent millions of dollars to get the Omnicare pharmacists to push its drugs. And it looks like the deal paid off, too. Between 1999 and 2004, J&J nearly tripled its sales to Omnicare—from $100 million to $280 million.

But here’s what concerns me the most: The pharmacy specifically purchased more than $100 million worth of Risperdal—a drug that nursing homes are notorious for giving to patients with dementia in order to keep them calm.

Risperdal is a powerful antipsychotic intended to treat schizophrenia and biopolar disorder—not dementia patients. In fact, this drug carries a black box warning specifically for elderly people with dementia—warning that it could increase their risk of death! And for what? A 2006 study found that antipsychotic drugs provided NO SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT over placebos in treating the delusions and aggression that accompanies the disease. Yet as many as one-third of all nursing home patients are regularly given these drugs.

I know that dementia patients can be a handful to take care of. As they reach the later stages of the disease, they can suffer from hallucinations, agitation, violent behavior, and delusions. But drugging them is NOT the answer.

The best thing you can do for someone suffering from dementia is to give them a little TLC—no drugs necessary. After all, in randomized trials of antipsychotic drugs, as many as 30 to 60 percent of the placebo patients improved. Dr. Dillip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, calls those statistics “mind boggling.”

“These severely demented patients are not responding to the power of suggestion. They’re responding to the attention they get when they participate in the trial. They receive both TLC and good general medical and humane care, which they did not receive until now,” Jeste says. “That’s a sad commentary on the way we treat dementia patients.”

Yes, it is.

If you have a friend or a loved one who is in a nursing home, check up on their meds. If they’re on Resperdal or a similar antipsychotic, demand to know why—and then insist on alternative options.

Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson’s bad news doesn’t stop there…