Many Adults Use Old Antibiotics Without a Prescription

July 14th 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor

Many Americans hoard antibiotics and use them without consulting a health care provider, recent survey results show.

Many Americans hoard antibiotics and use them without consulting a health care provider, recent survey results show.

The survey, which was published in the journalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, found that 1 in every 20 adults has held onto antibiotics and used them in the future without the supervision of a physician.

Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine randomly selected and surveyed 400 adults treated at diverse family practice clinics across the Houston area. Of those patients, 5% admitted to using antibiotics without a prescription in the past year, while 14% said they kept a stash of leftover antibiotics in their home. Meanwhile, 1 in every 4 participants said they wouldn’t consult a physician before using any antibiotics they had on hand.

Of the antibiotics used by the participants without a prescription, 40% were purchased in a store or pharmacy, 24% were bought outside of the United States, 20% were supplied by friends and family, and 12% were leftovers. Alarmingly, in 4% of the cases, antibiotics used without a prescription were drugs intended for use in animals, not humans.

“The most common conditions patients reported self-treating with antibiotics were sore throat, runny nose or cough—conditions that typically would get better without any antibiotic treatment,” the study’s lead author, Larissa Grigoryan, MD, said in a press release from the American Society for Microbiology.

She and her co-authors found that “[p]atients from public primary care clinics, those with less education, and younger patients had a higher risk of [nonprescription] use” in the survey.

Up to half of antibiotic prescriptions in the outpatient setting are unnecessary or inappropriate, according to CDC data. In response to this trend, the CDC and American College of Physicians (ACP) recently published recommendations on appropriate antibiotic use for clinicians to consider when treating patients with acute upper respiratory tract infections. Emphasizing the importance of antibiotic stewardship, the ACP and CDC encouraged clinicians to use their best judgment when prescribing these medications.

“Although it is everyone’s responsibility to use antibiotics appropriately, providers have the power to control prescriptions,” the organizations wrote. “Reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing will improve quality of care, decrease health care costs, and preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics.”

Clinicians shouldremind patientsat every visit that taking antibiotics when they arenot neededmay cause them to experience unnecessary medication side effects, allergic reactions, repeat visits to health care providers, more out-of-pocket costs for co-pays and prescriptions, and more visits to the emergency department, in addition to contributing to antibiotic resistance.

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