New study warns that antibiotics are overprescribed

Updated: Jan. 18, 2019 at 8:11 PM CST
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - We’ve all experienced it at some point; coughing, headaches, runny nose—all the symptoms that go along with the common cold.

Of course, no one wants to feel sick, so, in most cases, you make a trip to the doctor and they’ll prescribe you some form of drug—usually an antibiotic. However, could those drugs be doing more harm than good?

With the temperatures dropping, it has many of us feeling a little under the weather; reaching for the proper care.

In most cases, that care usually comes in the form of an antibiotic; something Dr. Gudrun Reed with Christus/Oschner Healthcare says is a misconception.

“I don’t know which one is the main misconception, but antibiotics don’t cure everything,” Reed said.

She states that antibiotics are becoming sort of like an expectation among many patients, even though what they’re suffering from may be a virus and not caused by bacteria.

At least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to new data published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts and other public health and medical experts.

Unnecessary antibiotic use directly contributes to antibiotic resistance. When people take antibiotics more frequently, it provides more chances for bacteria to adapt and learn to fight off modern drugs. There are currently a limited number of different antibiotics and scientists are having a hard time creating new drugs that can keep up with new super-bugs.

Unnecessary antibiotics can harm people as well. They can cause “mild side-effects like rashes or yeast infections” or “quite serious reactions that are life-threatening.”

Antibiotics can kill helpful bacteria and make it more likely for us to develop a harmful bacterial infection. Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is directly related to antibiotic use and contributes to 250,000 illness and 14,000 deaths per year, according to the CDC.

C. difficile is an issue hospitals and results in over $1 billion in preventable medical costs per year.

About 44 percent of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are written to treat patients with acute respiratory conditions, such as sinus infections, middle ear infections, pharyngitis, viral upper respiratory infections (i.e., the common cold), bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, allergies, influenza, and pneumonia. An estimated half of these outpatient prescriptions are unnecessary.

Dr. Lebato with Lake Charles Memorial says that it’s something he sees on a daily basis, patients requesting antibiotics without fully understanding the nature of their symptoms.

“Despite educating people and talking to people about their symptoms and that they’re not going to get better with antibiotics and that they should just give it more time. Most people would still like a prescription of something,” Lebato said.

Researchers found that out of 19 million patients prescribed the antibiotics, 23 percent of those prescriptions were given for colds, coughs and other illnesses that don’t require the medicine.

Although, it’s not at the level of the opioid epidemic, Lebato says overtime, if more doctors continue to prematurely prescribe antibiotics, it could do more harm than good.

“We do have a real concern that if we don’t treat appropriately, we are creating a monster in the bacteria that will be resistant to all the oral antibiotics that we have," Lebato said.

So, what can be done about the overprescribing of antibiotics? Lebato says the best thing a patient can do is talk to their doctor and to specifically ask when antibiotics are needed and not needed.

According to the CDC, health care professionals, health systems, and patients must take these actions to improve antibiotic use:

  • Outpatient health care providers can evaluate their prescribing habits and implement antibiotic stewardship activities, such as watchful waiting or delayed prescribing, when appropriate, into their practices.
  • Health systems can improve antibiotic prescribing in offices and outpatient facilities within their networks by providing communications training, clinical decision support, patient and health care provider education, and feedback to providers on their performance.
  • Patients can talk to their health care providers about when antibiotics are needed and when they are not. These conversations should include information on patients’ risk for infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria

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