We’ve come to see over-the-counter medications for colds and flus as pertinent, and antibiotics as necessary when a sickness becomes persistent. Our modern world has taken advantage of drugs to create a gap between us and the natural world filled with healing properties. But holistic versus western practices aside, there is a looming fact surfacing that can no longer be ignored: bacteria have now evolved to deflect the most powerful antibiotics available, and we can blame ourselves for it. Antibiotics are incredibly overused in farming and medicine, and this easy way out process is creating a global threat. The reality is, we need to look beyond new antibiotics for the answer. We also need to understand the human role in this new reality.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), concluded that 262 million people received prescriptions for antibiotics from their physicians from 2010 to 2011. And yet about 30 percent were unnecessary. The report, which was published in JAMA, revealed that there were an estimated 506 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 person population annually, though only 353 of those were appropriately prescribed. The researchers wrote: “Collectively, across all conditions, an estimated 30% of outpatient, oral antibiotic prescriptions may have been inappropriate.”
Researchers from the St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit discovered another shocking statistic this past summer as well: three-fourths of emergency room patients given antibiotics for a possible sexually transmitted infection don’t actually need them. Why? Simply because they don’t have the infection doctors believe they have.
Various research over the years has amounted to reveal a disturbing problem that no one seems to be able to solve. While there are so many health organizations and national governments exposing the reality about antibiotic resistance, the overuse and misuse of the drugs seems to roll on.
And we must discuss doctors’ roles in this epidemic, because they are the ones writing the medical prescriptions. If they are aware of what’s going on, then why can’t they simply put an end to it? “That is the million-dollar question,” notes Lauri Hicks, a physician who leads the CDC’s Office of Antibiotic Stewardship. “This is really about behavior change, and behavior change is notoriously difficult. We have a public perception, even in the clinical world, that when it comes to antibiotics, more is better.”
Stunningly, CDC researchers also just revealed that antibiotic use in U.S. hospitals didn’t change from 2006 to 2012, even though there was plenty of pressure to stop overusing the drugs. Last-resort antibiotics even went up.
The doctors know the reality. World Antibiotic Awareness Week recently exposed the problem, and even recruited healthcare organizations to help solve it. Furthermore, the CDC has been running a program,’Get Smart About Antibiotics,’ since the 1990s.
Hicks notes the CDC’s studies of the problem, constantly finding barriers. “There is a perception that the safer approach is to treat,” regardless of whether a diagnosis has been found. This, she says, is due to physicians being worried that if they don’t write a prescription and a patient becomes seriously ill, they’ll be subject to a lawsuit.
Perhaps a starting point for a solution would be to educate the patient. “When we talk to patients about adverse events and antibiotics, they’re shocked; they didn’t know those existed and were upset providers had not discussed them,” Hicks explains. “We have to get better at communicating the benefits and also the risks of antibiotics: that these are miracle drugs, but we should also be much more cautious using them.”
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