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Antibiotic Overprescribing: Creating the Next Big Superbug?

overprescribing antibiotics

by Joel Yambert, MS, Pharm.D. Candidate, Class of 2020
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

It’s another intense flu season and it may seem like everyone around you is getting sick. That sick person may even be you! People rush to the doctor to see what medications they can be given to make them feel better and “back to normal” quickly. The truth is, whatever is causing your sickness may not need antibiotics at all.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states that around one-third of antibiotic prescriptions given to people to take are unnecessary. Illnesses where antibiotics aren’t needed, but taken anyway, may be putting you and others in an even tougher, sicklier situation in the future. This is due to bacteria (or “bugs”) gaining resistance to antibiotics, creating so-called Superbugs.

How Do Bacteria Acquire Resistance?

It’s a commonly believed myth that your body gets used to certain antibiotics and forms its own resistance to them. The fact is, bacteria, like humans, can change and can obtain their own methods of resisting antibiotics. Another way is, bacteria are able to gain deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from other bacteria through gene transfer to gain resistance.

Bacteria are very dangerous in this way. One of these superbugs, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is a type of bacteria whose resistance has grown more common in recent years. It accounts for more deaths of Americans every year than homicide, emphysema, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease combined.

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Policies and Ideas to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance

There are many procedures and policies suggested to fight against overprescribing of antibiotics that are discussed among healthcare groups:

  • Use of antimicrobial programs – having an antimicrobial expert review and consider correct antibiotic use in hospitals and other healthcare locations.
  • Use of rapid point-of-care tests – strep throat and similar rapid tests can correctly identify bacteria or lack of them.
  • Delayed antibiotic prescribing – having patient not pick up antibiotics right away and only get medication if sickness continues or gets worse.

Some doctors say the need of antibiotics’ prescriptions for breathing infections, the most likely cause of a clinic visit, is thought to be less than 20%. Many factors can cause overprescribing, from a push for increased profits to the lack of time to properly assess patients in healthcare settings. 

Hopefully, further action is taken to prevent the increasing rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This concept of a “superbug” is on a global scale, showing a worldwide overuse of these drugs. Unfortunately, there’s also a lack of progress for newer antibiotics from the drug companies, due to the increased cost of drug creation.

Ways to Fight the “Superbug”

The CDC has a goal to lower inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use by 50% by the end of 2020. There are ways you can personally fight superbugs as well:

  1. Finish your antibiotic prescriptions—even if you are feeling better, continue taking the antibiotics per your doctor’s instructions
  2. Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics to treat your own sickness without getting advice from a medical professional.
  3. Have good hygiene – Thoroughly washing your hands, and food before cooking and maintaining clean living conditions can go a long way to reducing infections.

Trust Your Healthcare Provider

You should continue to trust your healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc.) to evaluate your sickness and provide the care and medications you need. A doctor can usually run tests that can identify what bacteria may be causing your sickness.

Steps are being taken through academic programs and other health groups to teach about proper antibiotic use. Trust that your doctor will prescribe the right antibiotics (or not prescribe them at all!) to make the best outcome for your present and future health.

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0503-unnecessary-prescriptions.html
  2. Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), Spellberg, B., Blaser, M., Guidos, R. J., Boucher, H. W., Bradley, J. S., … Gilbert, D. N. (2011). Combating antimicrobial resistance: policy recommendations to save lives. Clinical infectious diseases: an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America52 Suppl 5(Suppl 5), S397–S428. doi:10.1093/cid/cir153
  3. Llor, C., & Bjerrum, L. (2014). Antimicrobial resistance: risk associated with antibiotic overuse and initiatives to reduce the problem. Therapeutic advances in drug safety5(6), 229–241. doi:10.1177/2042098614554919
  4. Ventola C. L. (2015). The antibiotic resistance crisis: part 1: causes and threats. P & T: a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management40(4), 277–283.
  5. Uchil, R. R., Kohli, G. S., Katekhaye, V. M., & Swami, O. C. (2014). Strategies to combat antimicrobial resistance. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR8(7), ME01–ME4. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/8925.4529


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