Patients in Ontario’s hospitals, pharmacies, family doctors’ offices, and long term care facilities are owed a certain standard of care by the medical professionals who treat them. Ordinary citizens don’t possess the necessary knowledge to effectively diagnose or treat their own ailments, which is why we place immense trust in our doctors and nurses, and why medical malpractice lawyers work tirelessly to protect those patients who have been harmed by negligent acts or practices.

Prescription medications are central to treating most common illnesses and infections; they can also be extremely dangerous when consumed in an unsafe or reckless manner. Prescription opioids, for instance, are considered a gateway to elicit drug use, and as such have shouldered – controversially – some of the blame for the ongoing North American opioid crisis.

The over-prescription of antipsychotic drugs is also of concern to medical malpractice lawyers and some healthcare researchers.  Last year, we blogged about a Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) study that found that antipsychotic drugs are widely, and perhaps dangerously, prescribed to Canadian seniors living in long-term care facilities. The study’s authors said the drugs provided limited benefits, and put patients at risk of serious harm, especially due to the increased likelihood of falls.

In August, the Toronto Star reported on a study by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) which revealed similar practices in group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism. The study of more than 51,000 people with developmental disabilities found that nearly 40 per cent of its subjects – and 56 per cent living in group homes – were prescribed antipsychotic medications over the past six years, and that a third of those patients – 43 per cent in group homes – had not been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

“We don’t know, with the data, why this one person was prescribed or this (other) person was prescribed so we’re trying to almost guess at why,” the study’s lead author, psychologist Yona Lunksy, told the Star. “It could be behaviour, aggression, self-injury, agitation.”

What’s clear to medical malpractice lawyers is that prescribing powerful antipsychotics puts patients who might not need them at risk not only of falls, but also of complications like severe weight gain, diabetes, and hypertension. And while valid reasons for prescribing antipsychotics to some individuals with developmental disabilities certainly exist, patients who suffer injuries as a result of unnecessary prescriptions deserve compensation.

If you or a member of your family has been harmed through prescribed medication, contact the medical malpractice lawyers at Neinstein’s Medical Malpractice Group today to learn how we might be able to help.

Greg Neinstein