Study: Prescribed antibiotics are overused

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:42 a.m. CDT
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(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
U.S. doctors are prescribing enough antibiotics to give them to four out of five Americans every year, an alarming pace that suggests they are being overused, a new government study finds.

Dr. Theresa Walden sees a phenomenon growing each day involving doctors, patients and the use of prescribed antibiotics.

Patients with sudden coughs or headaches enter the doctor’s office expecting to leave with antibiotics, the drugs often used to fight bacterial infections that aren’t available over the counter.

Doctors willing to cave to expectations oftentimes are prescribing antibiotics in situations that don’t warrant it, said Walden, who practices family medicine in Barrington for Advocate Health Care.

“We are starting to wake up to the fact that we need to do a better job, but the doctors still need to do a better job,” Walden said. “It’s a mutual problem – patient expectation and the doctors giving into them.”

The problem of antibiotic overuse that Walden described is intensifying throughout the country, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found.

U.S. doctors are prescribing enough antibiotics to supply them to four out of five Americans every year, CDC researchers revealed in a report published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The report is the first to look at antibiotic prescriptions for all Americans.

Researchers found after analyzing a 2010 national prescription drug database that doctors are doling out 833 antibiotics for every 1,000 people. Illinois doctors are in line with the national average, prescribing about 800 antibiotics for every 1,000 people.

The findings are alarming for Walden, who said that antibiotic overuse is one reason why antibiotics become resistant to the bacterial infections that the prescribed drugs are trying to defeat.

She stressed that the public needs to become better educated on when antibiotics are appropriate. Patients and doctors alike need to curtail expectations that antibiotics are necessary to fight common illnesses such as the cold or flu, she said.

“Not everything should be ignored, but there are certain things we don’t have to treat,” Walden said. “People need to be more patient.”

Other area doctors argued that the issue of antibiotic overuse is not as severe as CDC researchers portray it to be.

Dr. Steven Campau, an Algonquin internist affiliated with Advocate Health Care, said the study presented an “oversimplification” to a complex issue.

He said that antibiotic resistance today is a product of many factors, including the fact that people are living longer and that bacterial strains by nature will adapt to common remedies the longer they are used.

The medical marketplace consequently encourages overuse since researchers and developers often are deterred by the exorbitant costs it takes to test and create new, effective antibiotics, he said.

“The major crux of this study is that the problems are derived from irresponsible patients and stupid doctors,” Campau said. “This is a complex issue with a lot of different factors.”

Dr. William Stinson, a Crystal Lake internist for Centegra Health System, admitted that he sometimes prescribes antibiotics to patients who prefer it but are dealing with a developing illness that doesn’t yet have a clear diagnosis.

But he said that antibiotics still serve a vital treatment function for many bacterial infections. Although a concern, antibiotic resistance still is not a critical issue, since most bacterial infections haven’t yet adapted to the antibiotic remedies available to doctors.

“I think it’s good practice to be thoughtful about antibiotic usage,” Stinson said. “But I can’t say at this point in time that things are much different now than they were five or 10 years ago.”

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