Health Spotlight: 1 In 3 Antibiotics Prescribed Are Unnecessary

prescribed antibioticsAt 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.

The study analyzed antibiotic use in doctors' offices and emergency departments throughout the United States. CDC researchers found that most of these unnecessary antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses – including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections – which do not respond to antibiotics. These 47 million excess prescriptions each year put patients at needless risk for allergic reactions or the sometimes deadly diarrhea, Clostridium difficile.

The researchers also estimated the rate of inappropriate antibiotic use in adults and children by age and diagnosis. These data will help inform efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing over the next five years.

"Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we'll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections, cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma."

  • Of the estimated 154 million prescriptions for antibiotics written in doctor's offices and emergency departments each year, 30 percent are unnecessary. This finding creates a benchmark for improving outpatient antibiotic prescribing and use.
  • 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.

"Setting a national target to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in outpatient settings is a critical first step to improve antibiotic use and protect patients," said Lauri Hicks, D.O., director of the Office of Antibiotic Stewardship in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC, and commander in the U.S. Public Health Service. "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."

www.cdc.gov/getsmart

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