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Efforts to Combat Antibiotic Overuse Have Had Little Impact On Prescribing: Study

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While rates of antibiotic prescribing have decreased modestly following recent efforts to curb use of the drugs, the findings of a new study suggest that it does not appear to be enough to stem the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which pose a serious health risk. 

In a study published in the medical journal The BMJ on July 27, Harvard researchers found that antibiotic prescriptions decreased slightly overall from 2011 to 2015, but for some antibiotics, prescribing actually increased.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria, which cause so-called “superbugs”, have been a topic of concern in recent years, as reports indicate resistant bacteria is becoming more and more common. Recently, rare antibiotic resistant infectious diseases were found in 27 states across the country, where there are no effective drugs to treat the conditions, and there are growing reports of antibiotic resistant strains of Gonorrhea.

With that in mind, efforts have been made worldwide to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescribing, as evidence indicates that overuse of antibiotics can contribute to the proliferation of superbugs.

In this latest study, researchers analyzed United States Medicare administrative claims from 2011 to 2015. This included more than 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65.

According to the findings, prescriptions for antibiotics decreased modestly, from 1,364 per 1,000 beneficiaries to 1,309 per 1,000 beneficiaries from 2011 to 2014.The study also found that claims for potentially inappropriate antibiotics decreased from 552.7 to 522.1 per 1,000 people, a reduction of 4%.

While that may sound like good news, researchers warn the trend is not indicating a decrease in inappropriate antibiotic prescribing across the board. For example, while Comparatively, claims for azithromycin decreased by 18.5%, claims for levofloxacin increased by 28%.

Doctors may be prescribing azithromycin less, but they are prescribing levoflaxacin more. This indicates the decrease seen in azithromycin prescriptions isn’t a result of improved vigilance for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Instead, it simply indicates a change in individual drug use trends.

“Among US Medicare beneficiaries, overall antibiotic use and potentially inappropriate use in 2011-15 remained steady or fell modestly, but individual drugs had divergent changes in use,” researchers determined. “Trends in drug use across indications were stronger than trends in use for individual indications, suggesting that guidelines and concerns about antibiotic resistance were not major drivers of change in antibiotic use.”

Other research has led to similar findings, indicating that despite repeated warnings concerning the threat of antibiotic resistant superbugs, doctors and hospitals continue to overprescribe antibiotics and prescribe the drugs for inappropriate uses.

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