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Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry Introduces Legislation to Address ‘Chemical Restraint’ Use in Nursing Homes

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) announced today the introduction of AB 1809, legislation to stem the practice of “chemically restraining” nursing home residents in California.

Some nursing homes in the United States, including California, routinely give antipsychotic drugs to residents with dementia to control their behavior, despite rules against the misuse of such drugs as “chemical restraints.” These chemical restraints are being prescribed to sedate and subdue residents, who often use behavior to communicate their pain, discomfort, or distress.

According to a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, this abusive practice has become more widespread. Based on their researchers’ visits to more than 100 nursing facilities in six states and more than 300 interviews with people living in facilities, their families, staff, long-term care and disability experts, government officials and advocates, Human Rights Watch’s report “’They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia” estimates that every week in U.S. nursing facilities, more than 179,000 people, mostly those older and living with dementia, are given antipsychotic drugs without an appropriate diagnosis. Facilities administer these drugs in many cases without obtaining informed consent from residents or their families.

Antipsychotic drugs were developed to treat psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to label them with the strongest “black box” warning about the risks they pose to people with dementia. The FDA has never approved antipsychotic drugs as safe and effective for treatment of dementia symptoms. Studies find that antipsychotic drugs nearly double the risk of death in older people with dementia. When the drugs are administered without informed consent, patients and their families are not making the choice to take such a risk.

“There are approved uses for antipsychotic drugs. Using them on people with dementia because staff want to control a patient who is deemed ‘unruly’ is just plain wrong,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). “The use of such drugs as a ‘chemical restraint’ invokes visions of the middle ages. This practice violates federal and state regulations and can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international human rights law. And, what’s worse, the staff and facilities engaging in this inappropriate practice are rarely punished.  It’s time we stopped this abusive treatment of our family members.”

Tony Chicotel, Senior Staff Attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) stated, “Despite a decade of laudable efforts to reduce the misuse of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes, the rates have risen during the pandemic, wiping out nearly all of our state's progress. Requiring written informed consent is a back-to-the-basics approach to the overdrugging problem that ensures residents or their representatives have control over drugging decisions after consultation with their health care professionals.”

Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, parts of Colusa, Solano and Sonoma Counties, and all of Yolo County except West Sacramento.