Grassley calls for probe into providers' use of antipsychotics

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A high-ranking U.S. senator has asked the office of the Inspector General to investigate the possible misuse of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes. Inspector General Daniel Levinson is giving the matter "very careful consideration," according to a spokesman.

About 1 in 5 nursing home residents who are not diagnosed with psychosis are nonetheless being prescribed antipsychotic drugs such as Zyprexa and Seroquel for off-label uses, or to calm dementia residents, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing Centers for Medicare & Medicaid statistics. The drugs are often used to control schizophrenia and bi-polar disease. The newspaper also reported that the practice of antipsychotics' off-label prescribing is coming under heavy scrutiny from "academics, patient advocates and even some in the nursing home industry."

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member on the Finance Committee, also has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the possibility of questionable payments to doctors who prescribe these medicines and how much these drugs cost Medicare and Medicaid.

Sales of antipsychotics in 2006 rose to their highest level ever, reaching $11.7 billion, up significantly from $6.6 billion in 2002, according to IMS Health.