Nearly 25 percent of antibiotic prescriptions might be unneeded
As the opioid epidemic rages on, it’s easy to forget about another pharmaceutical crisis on the sidelines. Growing concern over antibiotic resistance stems largely from the overprescription and overuse of antibiotics.
Even though antibiotic misuse is a major global problem, a new study has found that patients are still being prescribed antibiotics that they don’t need.
The results, published in the British Medical Journal, show that in 2016, one in seven patients were prescribed antibiotics they didn’t need.
“Antibiotic overuse is still rampant and affects an enormous number of patients,” said Kao-Ping Chua, the lead author of the study. “Despite decades of quality improvement and educational initiatives, providers are still writing antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that would get better on their own.”
Chua and colleagues analyzed the insurance claims of 19.2 million privately insured adults aged 18 to 64 and children from 2016.
Of those 19.2 million, 7.6 million filled an outpatient antibiotic prescription, and 2.7 million filled at least one unnecessary antibiotic prescription.
The researchers used a classification system to analyze the claims by focusing on the new medical coding system (ICD-10). Diagnoses their accompanying prescription were labeled according to their appropriateness. Either the diagnosis “always,” “sometimes,” or “never” justified an antibiotic prescription according to the researchers. This is the first time the medical coding system has been used to study antibiotic misuse among outpatients.
One in ten children and one in six adults received an unnecessary antibiotic prescription, and only 36 percent of those could be justified.
Antibiotics were commonly overprescribed to treat bronchitis or cold symptoms.
Antibiotic overuse is a problem for both doctors and patients. Doctors want to treat their patients and may think that antibiotics are necessary, and patients who were inappropriately prescribed antibiotics in the past may think that antibiotics are the only way to help treat their systems.
The results of the study are a major cause for concern because they illustrate how widespread antibiotic overuse is, even as antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise.
Once easily treated problems are now becoming potentially life-threatening and dangerous, and around two million people develop an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to public health in the world, and the large number of antibiotics that providers prescribe to patients are a major driver of resistance,” said Chua. “Providers urgently need to eliminate prescribing that isn’t needed, both for the sake of their patients and society.”