A recent investigation by CNN brought to light the expanding and allegedly inappropriate use of the prescription drug Nuedexta in nursing homes throughout the country. Nuedexta is FDA-approved to treat a rare condition known as pseudobulbar affect (PBA).
What is Pseudobulbar Affect?
Pseudobulbar affect is characterized by sudden and uncontrollable laughing or crying. It is associated with people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALM), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Avanir Pharmaceuticals has been aggressively targeting elderly nursing home residents with the drug, the CNN investigation found, although PBA reportedly impacts less than 1 percent of Americans, based on a calculation using the drug maker’s own figures.
What the Investigation Revealed
Nuedexta prescription use in nursing homes is rising at a rapid rate, even though Avanir Pharmaceuticals acknowledges that the drug has not been extensively studied in elderly patients, according to CNN.
CNN found that Avanir Pharmaceutical’s sales force is focused on expanding the drug’s use among elderly patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, coupled with “high-volume prescribing and advocacy efforts by doctors receiving payments from the company.”
Since 2012, more than half of all Nuedexta pills have gone to long-term care facilities, according to data obtained from QuintilesIMS, which tracks pharmaceutical sales. Total sales of Nuedexta reached almost $300 million that year.
In response to requests to be interviewed for the CNN article, Avanir reportedly responded by email with a statement that PBA is often “misunderstood” and that the condition can affect people with dementia and other neurological disorders that are common in nursing home residents.
Nuedexta is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat anyone with PBA, including those with neurological conditions such as dementia. But geriatric physicians, dementia researchers, and other medical experts reportedly told CNN that PBA is extremely rare in dementia patients.
How Can Nuedexta Impact Nursing Home Residents?
One study of 194 patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that patients taking Nuedexta suffered more than twice as many falls as those patients taking a placebo.
CNN reports that Lon Schneider, director of the University of Southern California’s California Alzheimer’s Disease Center, reviewed information from several hundred reports obtained by CNN through the Freedom of Information Act. Schneider expressed concern about potential interactions between Nuedexta and other medications intended to treat problematic behaviors. These medications may include antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medication which are often given to nursing home residents to suppress anxiety or aggression that may occur with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia types.
Why Are Doctors Prescribing Nuedexta to Nursing Home Residents?
According to CNN’s analysis of government data, between 2013 and 2016, Avanir and its parent company, Otsuka, paid almost $14 million to physicians for Nuedexta-related consulting, promotional speaking, and other services. The companies also spent $4.6 million on travel and dining costs. CNN found that in 2015 nearly half the Nuedexta claims filed with Medicare came from doctors who had received money or other perks.
According to the investigation, state regulators have found that doctors may inappropriately diagnose nursing home residents with PBA to justify the use of Nuedexta to treat confusion, agitation, and unruly behavior. Further, doctors may inappropriately diagnose nursing home residents with PBA to justify the use of Nuedexta to treat confusion, agitation, and unruly behavior. A diagnosis of PBA may be used because “off-label” prescriptions written by doctors using Nuedexta to treat patients who have not been diagnosed with PBA would typically not be covered by Medicare.
What Adverse Events Have Been Reported With Nuedexta Use By Nursing Home Patients?
Soon after Nuedexta came on the market, doctors, nurses, and nursing home patients’ family members began filing reports including rashes, dizziness, and falls as well as comas and death. CNN found that Nuedexta was listed as a “suspect” medication in nearly 1,000 adverse event reports received by the FDA. These reports disclosed side effects, drug interactions, and other issues. According to CNN, the FDA declined to comment on adverse events or the approval process for Nuedexta.