Unneeded use of antibiotics creates ‘superbugs’

A vast majority of people can agree that being sick is never fun. According to WebMD, about $40 billion a year is spent on the common cold in the U.S.

Whether that is on sick days, cough syrup, decongestant, or some other form of treatment, people will go to great lengths to reduce their cold symptoms. Understandably so, as there is no cure for the common cold.

Problems arise when people, such as those with a common cold, expect a cure from their physician. Usually, in the form of an antibiotic. Penicillin was the first discovered antibiotic back in 1928, since its commercialization antibiotic use has been on the rise.

In fact, it has increased so much that antibiotics are frequently overprescribed. Over 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions filled by outpatients are unnecessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means about 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written annually.

Alia Salem, PharmD, states that she is very concerned with antibiotics being overprescribed.

“Overprescribing can lead to resistant bacteria, which makes the infection much harder to treat, especially in the outpatient setting versus in the hospital setting,” said Salem. “It’s imperative that antibiotics are ordered only when needed, upon verification of a bacterial infection versus viral…

“Premature ordering of antibiotics and the inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to losing their healing potentials, and increase in health-related complications, re-hospitalizations and an increase in healthcare costs,” said Salem.

Antibiotics are also known as “antibacterials” because they treat bacterial infections. They don’t however, treat viral infections.

Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed, such as for a viral infection, can lead to antibiotic resistance. After all, things evolve in nature and it is no different for harmful bacteria.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria or fungi are known as “superbugs” and according to the CDC, over 2.8 million people are infected with them each year in the United States.

And over 35,000 people die as a result.

“Patients must learn the importance of using their medication as prescribed. If prescribed an antibiotic, take it as instructed for the full duration, don’t stop just because you’re feeling better,” said Salem.

Salem also stresses that patients not take old prescriptions, as antibiotics are not a cure-all. She recommends patients not pressuring their doctors, as is often the case.

“Many patients expect or demand prescription medication before leaving their doctors office, without understanding that viral infections can not be treated this way,” said Salem. “Patient pressure towards their provider will only hurt them in the long run when medications are used inappropriately; trust your provider and their knowledge to give you the best treatment option based on lab results and the symptoms present.”

Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra responded to the CDC’s article on antibiotic resistance with her own reasoning.

“We perceive that our patients want antibiotics, and we want patients to be satisfied with our care, sometimes leading us to prescribe when we shouldn’t,” said Fleming.

The world of medicine is evolving and improving alongside these bacteria, which is why there aren’t 2.8 million deaths annually. However, antibiotics still do more good than harm and being prescribed an antibiotic doesn’t mean that you will automatically get infected with a “superbug.”

The CDC is currently working to reduce the amount of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions with the White House National Action Plan to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB).