News and Articles

Addressing a New COVID Risk: Over-Prescription in Long-Term Care Facilities

Photo by Brian Thompson /Postmedia
January 15, 2021

As the pandemic rages on, older people in care homes across Canada continue to face daunting risks to their physical health and emotional wellbeing.  Yet, there’s also another emerging risk to older people in these facilities: widespread over prescription of psychotropic drugs.

In a new article, Kim Samuel, along with Jane Buchanan, Acting Disability Rights Director at Human Rights Watch, describe the need for more humane, compassionate and effective ways to support elders in care homes—in lieu of excessive reliance on powerful medications that can cause harm.  

As a long-term partner of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, Human Rights Watch is working to expose injustice and human rights abuse throughout the globe. Over the past few years, the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness and Human Rights Watch have documented the impact of social isolation on older people in the United Kingdom and Australia, and most recently, are committed to highlighting the treatment of our elders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human Rights Watch has documented imprudent use of psychotropic medication in care homes well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from 2017-2018 in the US and in 2018-2019 in Australia uncovered serious abuses aimed at making residents more compliant to the order facilities’ staff.  Such inhumane practices are increasingly widespread since the start of the pandemic and its associated lockdowns.

“As national and provincial governments carry out vaccination efforts,” Kim and Jane write, “they should not ignore other dangers to older people in nursing homes related to COVID-19 restrictions, such as chemical restraint. It will be essential to prevent severe and potentially irreversible consequences for older people that result from lack of human contact.”

Jane and Kim recommend stronger reporting accountability to help deter the misuse of medication, particularly in care homes for older people. They also propose other reform strategies, including implementing sensible visitor policies to help meet the vital need for human connection in a time of extraordinary social isolation.