Are State Hospitals Doping Up New York's Disabled?

By Walter Armstrong 12/23/11

A New York Times investigation finds that state facilities routinely over-medicate handicapped patients to keep them quiet.

Medication time in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
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A shocking investigation by the New York Times has forced New York state officials to crack down on the widespread practice of over-medicating disabled patients in state-run facilities. After reviewing thousands of patient Medicaid records, the paper reported on Thursday that doctors at state institutions routinely order a wide array of psychotropic drugs to patients that have no medical or psychological reasons for them. The piling on of anti-psychotics and sedatives typically makes zombies out of patients who might otherwise place demands on overworked staff. This practice, known as “pharmacological restraint,” is also common at nursing homes and other institutions that serve society’s most helpless and vulnerable.  According to the paper's report, many patients were placed on high doses of five or more psychotropics at once, including such highly addictive sedatives as Ativan and Valium and anti-psychotics like Seroquel.

Soon after the Times presented its findings to state officials, the specter of potential scandal and public outcry spurred  officials to surprisingly swift action. In a press release on Thursday, The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities acknowledged problems in its treatment of the disabled, and promised to impose sweeping new guidelines for the use of psychotropic medications. The agency's new rules state that medications 'shall not be used for disciplinary purposes' or 'as a substitute for supervision.' But many legal observers anticipate a flurry of lawsuits in the wake of the paper's report.



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Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.