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Psychoactive drugs can be taken both recreationally and as a medication for medical symptoms. In this article, we define the term “psychoactive drug” and explain how it relates to nursing home abuse.

Key Takeaways

  • A psychoactive drug is a drug that affects the brain, changing mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behavior
  • Examples of psychoactive drugs include alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, certain pain medications, and more
  • The types of psychoactive drugs are stimulants, depressants, opioids, hallucinogens, and marijuana 
  • Psychoactive drugs are commonly used, even overused, in nursing homes for dementia and other symptoms 

What Is a Psychoactive Drug?

A psychoactive drug, also called a psychotropic drug, is a drug that affects the brain, causing changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feeling, or behavior. 

Examples of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Certain pain medicines 
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines

​​Types of Psychoactive Drugs

The types of psychoactive drugs are:

  • Stimulants - Effects include heightened alertness, higher energy, excitability, better mood, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. Examples of stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. 
  • ​​Depressants - Effects include reduced tension, anxiety relief, and muscle relaxation. Examples of depressants include alcohol and benzodiazepines. 
  • Opioids - Derived from the poppy plant or synthetically produced, opioids’ effects include pain relief, drowsiness, euphoria, confusion, and respiratory depression. Examples of opioids include codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and heroin.
  • Hallucinogens - Effects include paranoia, depersonalization, hallucinations, erratic behavior, increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate. Examples of hallucinogens include LDS, psilocybin, ketamine, PCP, dextromethorphan, and mescaline.
  • Marijuana - Effects include changes in sensory perception, euphoria, relaxation, appetite changes, impaired memory, impaired concentration, impaired coordination, and changes in blood pressure. 

Psychoactive Drugs and Nursing Home Abuse

According to studies, psychoactive drugs are used by a majority of nursing home residents as long-term symptomatic treatment. They are often prescribed for symptoms of dementia, anxiety, and insomnia, which are common problems among the elderly. Yet these drugs have many side effects and are not always effective at treating the problem at hand. 

According to Dr. David Graham, a prominent FDA drug safety expert, “You have probably got 15,000 elderly people in nursing homes dying each year from the off-label use of antipsychotic medications for an indication that the FDA knows the drug doesn’t work.”

Various interventions have attempted to reduce the excessive prescription of psychoactive drugs in nursing homes, including the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1987.

Other non-pharmacological interventions can be used as an alternative to inappropriate prescription of psychotropic drugs, including psychosocial and interpersonal interventions. Effective interventions must fit the needs of each nursing home and resident. 

Inappropriate prescription, dosage, and use of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes may be considered a form of nursing home abuse. If you or somebody you care about has been treated with psychoactive drugs in an inappropriate or excessive manner, it is important to report it to the relevant authorities immediately. You may also choose to speak to an experienced nursing home abuse attorney to review your options for legal action and compensation.

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