Antibiotic Overprescribing Sparks Call for Stronger Stewardship


Antibiotic overprescription remains a problem in the U.S. and abroad and shows no signs of slowing. A study published in the October 2014 issue of JAMA reports that nearly half of all hospitalized patients receive antibiotics, and the drugs most commonly prescribed are broad-spectrum antibiotics, which have been linked with promoting the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Based on a one-day prevalence survey of more than 11,000 patients in 183 U.S. hospitals in 2011, the study notes that half of inpatients prescribed antibiotics received two or more of them. The CDC estimates that 20% to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed in U.S. hospitals are either unnecessary or inappropriate, and many of them count adverse drug reactions among their side effects .

While a growing body of evidence suggests that hospital-based antibiotic stewardship programs can optimize treatment, reduce antibacterial side effects, and save money, a study published September 2014 in JAMA says those benefits may be lost post-discharge. Results of a randomized trial of an outpatient antimicrobial stewardship intervention found that an initial 50% reduction in antibiotic prescriptions was lost when their targeted interventions ceased.

“These data suggest that audit and feedback was a vital element of this intervention and that antimicrobial stewardship requires continued, active efforts to sustain initial improvements,” says lead author Jeffrey S. Gerber, MD, PhD, CHCP, attending physician in infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The federal government has taken a three-pronged approach to the problem: a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology with recommendations for monitoring superbugs and slowing their spread; an executive order issued by President Obama on September 18, 2014 with a commitment to “accelerate scientific research and facilitate the development of new antibacterial drugs;” and the creation of a national task force charged with designing a national strategy to combat antibiotic overuse by February 2015.

The President’s Council report notes that bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics in large part because these drugs are overprescribed to patients and overused in animals raised for food. The report recommends the CDC develop rules by 2017 requiring hospitals and nursing homes to implement best practices for antibiotic use.

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