Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are needless, according to a new paper issued Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Around 47 million excess prescriptions are putting patients at risk every year. The White House wants to reduce those numbers.  

Researchers analyzed data of the antibiotic use in emergency rooms, hospital-based clinics, and offices of doctors. Respiratory conditions caused by viruses such as common colds and bronchitis are among the main drivers of antibiotic overuse, said the CDC in a statement. The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to the CDC, 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are needless. Photo credit: Emed
According to the CDC, 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are needless. Photo credit: Emed

Every year, 262.5 million courses of antibiotics are prescribed to patients in the U.S, which can be translated as 5 prescriptions, for every 6 people. These drugs are lifesaving, if we become resistant to them due to unnecessary use, we could face considerable health risks, said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

“If we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections. Losing antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections,  cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma.” he said.

David Hyun, senior officer with Pew’s antibiotic resistance project, said that estimates of the study are conservative. However, in-depth data would help physicians and health care providers to reduce rates of overuse by 2020.

Which is the impact of antibiotic excess prescriptions?

Rates of inappropriate use of antibiotics must be reduced in order to avoid the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes, called superbugs. The latter, are currently described as “the most urgent public health threat” of our time, according to Kathy Talkington, director of Pew’s antibiotic resistance project.

In other words, the more antibiotics are used, the less effective they become, said, Talkington. Every year, 154 million visits to the doctor, result in an antibiotic prescription, of which 30 percent are needless.

Half of all prescriptions written for patients with acute respiratory conditions such as sinus infections middle ear infections, asthma, allergies, influenza, and pneumonia are unnecessary, said the CDC.

The inappropriate use of antibiotics is not only linked to needless prescriptions. According to Lauri Hicks, director of the CDC’s office of Antibiotic Stewardship, health care providers can also indicate wrong doses or incorrect durations, to patients. As a response, people involved in the matter must set a national target, Hicks concluded.

The White House is committed to reducing inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use

In 2015, the Obama administration presented a plan called The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria( CARB), which seeks to reduce antibiotics overuse by 50 percent by 2020, or 15 percent of all prescriptions.

“We must continue to work together across the entire health care continuum to make sure that antibiotics are prescribed only when needed, and when an antibiotic is needed that the right antibiotic, dose, and duration are selected.” Kicks said.

The Congress issued $160 million in funding to the CDC in 2016, as part of the CARB. Patients can talk to physicians about when is necessary to use antibiotics or not.

Source: CDC Press Release