Doctors Overprescribe Antibiotics | Health Blog

Antibiotics Still Widely Overprescribed

Doctors Overprescribe Antibiotics | Health Blog

Anyone who reads this website is probably very familiar with the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A large part of the blame for these difficult-to-treat superbugs stems from taking antibiotics when they are not appropriate for an illness. Since we’ve been aware of the ability of bacteria to develop resistance for years, you might think our approach to the use of antibiotics would have improved significantly by now. Sadly, you would be wrong. In fact, new research shows that there are still millions of antibiotics prescribed unnecessarily each year in the United States.

The study, which took place at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that nearly one-third of the outpatient oral antibiotics prescribed each year may be unjustified.1 Fleming-Dutra, Katherine E.; et al. “Prevalence of Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescriptions Among US Ambulatory Care Visits, 2010-2011.” JAMA. 3 May 2016. Accessed 8 May 2016. The results were based on data generated from two national surveys conducted by the CDC in 2010 and 2011. They focused on outpatients seeking medical care at clinics and emergency departments of hospitals, which amounted to more than 184,000 visits. In 12.6 percent of these visits, an antibiotic was prescribed.

Based on the patient’s age and diagnosis, the scientists formulated a methodology for determining which antibiotic prescriptions were an appropriate form of treatment and which were inappropriate. Their analysis showed that across all of the various ailments for which the patients were seeking care, approximately 30 percent received unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics.

The findings were even worse when the researchers looked at each category of illness separately. Fully half of the antibiotics prescribed to treat respiratory infections–a category that encompasses common colds, bronchitis, and sore throats, which are all primarily caused by viruses, not bacteria–appear to have been completely unjustified in their usage. That translates to a whopping 47 million antibiotic prescriptions written and filled inappropriately in the U.S. on a yearly basis. And we wonder why we have a problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Why is this overwhelming over-prescription still occurring? Both doctors and patients share the blame here. People who aren’t feeling well want a quick fix, and many expect that to come in the form of a pill. They are convinced that only an antibiotic can get rid of their illness and have them feeling better in just a day or two. Some simply will not take no for an answer, bullying their doctor into writing a prescription or going to another doctor who gives out prescriptions without a hassle.

And while the physicians are supposed to be aware of which conditions antibiotics will provide an effective treatment for and which they won’t, it often doesn’t stop them from writing out that prescription anyway if they think it may make their patient happy or just get the patient to stop nagging them. Sometimes it’s a matter of legally covering their behind if the doctor is unsure of whether an illness is bacterial or viral and offers to write a prescription rather than recommending the testing required to find out or waiting to see if the problem resolves in a few days. But once the prescription has been written, most patients don’t wait to fill it.

It’s also extremely likely that this study actually underrepresents the scope of the problem. The investigators focused solely on hospital and clinic visits, which left private doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, physicians phoning in prescriptions to pharmacies, and other scenarios unaccounted for. So 47 million unnecessary prescriptions may be just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re part of this huge group who requests antibiotics every time you get sick, it’s time to reel yourself in a little. Because the fact of the matter is that they won’t do you a bit of good if your illness isn’t bacterial. Viral conditions do not respond to antibiotics at all. And if you do require antibiotics as a treatment, make sure to follow the instructions and take the entire course, even if you are feeling fine a couple of days later. And make sure, after you complete your round of antibiotics, to rebuild the beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract. Remember, antibiotics kill them too. Better yet, take a healthy approach such as following the Baseline of Health program to optimize your immune system so you catch fewer ailments. And on the occasions that you do get sick, take natural pathogen destroyers to fight the infections without any risk of contributing to the formation of superbugs.


1 Fleming-Dutra, Katherine E.; et al. “Prevalence of Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescriptions Among US Ambulatory Care Visits, 2010-2011.” JAMA. 3 May 2016. Accessed 8 May 2016.