Nursing Homes Required to Obtain Informed Consent When Administering Psychotropic Drugs

Many nursing homes often substitute individualized care with the use of psychotropic drugs to make up for the lack of adequate staffing in their facilities. As a result, nursing homes often misuse psychotropic drugs by administering them to residents in order to sedate or control them. This has the tragic result of reducing a resident’s quality of life, because many hazardous side effects accompany the use of these drugs, including death. There are several major classes of psychotropic drugs: antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Haldol, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications. Due to the dangers associated with their use, the FDA issued a black-box warning for anti-psychotics, warning consumers of the increased risk of death for those with dementia, as such drugs have not been approved for this use. Dangerous side effects include, but are not limited to, excessive sedation, weight loss, heart attack, stroke, delirium, agitation, and increased risk of pneumonia.

Despite knowing and understanding the dangers such drugs pose to residents, they are still administered to sedate residents, particularly in facilities that are understaffed or those that have caregivers who are not qualified or trained. Advocacy group CANHR compiled a database of the nursing homes located in California, and each facility’s rates of psychotropic drug use. Therefore, consumers and their loved ones may find such information particularly useful when conducting a search for nursing homes, as this data may help consumers find a facility without a drugging issue.


It is important for residents and their family members to understand that nursing homes are required by state and federal law to obtain informed consent prior to administering such drugs. Informed consent requires health care providers disclose information as to any proposed medical treatments to their patients or legal representatives. Such information must include why a specific psychotropic drug is being administered, the duration of its use, any known side effects, whether there are any alternative treatments available to the patient, and the patient’s right to refuse the drug. Additionally, patients or their legal representatives must agree to the treatment before it is administered. Therefore, doctors and nursing homes must verify that they have obtained informed consent prior to giving patients psychotropic drugs.

Consumers are encouraged to insist health care providers make available written information as to any adverse side effects of the proposed medication, and to carefully consider this information prior to giving consent. Because psychotropic drugs are accompanied by dangerous side effects, including death, consumers are encouraged not to consent to their administration without looking into less harmful, alternative treatment methods. Adequate staffing to provide individualized care and attention, along with improvements to the resident’s living environment can help address behavioral concerns, such as agitation or confusion, that are manifested by dementia patients as a result of underlying issues such as dehydration, pain, and adverse medical reactions. Health care providers should understand that such underlying conditions may be treated without having to resort to psychotropic drugs.

If you believe psychotropic medications are being administered by a nursing home facility without acquiring requisite informed consent, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Public Health, and notify your local ombudsman program as well. Additionally, if you believe your loved one has been injured as a result of unnecessary or inappropriate medication, we encourage you to contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi. Our passionate team firmly believes that your loved one’s well-being should be prioritized and that nursing home residents should receive proper, individualized care. We serve cities all across Northern and Southern California. Contact us today at (888) 606-3453 for a free consultation.