Credit: Hailshadow/Getty Images Plus

A federal study has found that prescriptions for antipsychotic medication in nursing homes and assisted living facilities increased by 7.4% during the first quarter, or first three months, of the pandemic. 

Findings were published Friday by the Assistant Secretary for Planning  and Evaluation, the principal advisor to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers used prescription claims data from January 2019 through June 2021 for the analysis.

Federal data shows that there were 1.65 million total antipsychotic drugs prescribed in long-term care facilities during the first quarter of 2019, while there were 1.74 million in the first quarter of 2021. 

There were 20.8 million prescriptions dispensed in 2020, compared to 20.5 million in 2019, a 1.5% rise.

“This increase in prescriptions occurred despite a likely decline in total LTCF census in 2020, which suggests that the total increase in per capita prescriptions may be higher,” the federal investigators noted. 

They said findings call into question the short- and long-term effects on quality of care and health outcomes the pandemic has had on nursing home residents. 

“Understanding the reasons for these divergent trends in the use of specific antipsychotic medications during the COVID-19 pandemic is an important area for future research,” report authors concluded. 

President Joe Biden’s nursing home reform initiative includes a proposal to refocus on problematic diagnoses and reduce the use of inappropriate antipsychotic medications. 

Over the last 10 years, providers have made significant strides in reducing antipsychotic medication use among residents, according to a report released in late March by the American Health Care Association. 

That data showed that fewer than 14% of nursing home residents were receiving antipsychotic medications as of 2020, a significant decline from the approximate 25% in 2011.