America has an antibiotic problem, but just how bad is it? According to what the Washington Post called "the most in-depth study yet" to delve into antibiotic overprescription, it's bad — really bad. Patients don't need one in every three of the antibiotics they're told to take, often as treatment for viral illnesses that these medications can't treat. It's a contributing factor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases that's hard to ignore.
"We've all been hearing, 'This is a problem, this is problem,' and we all understood the general concept that there is a lot of antibiotic use," David Hyun, a co-author of the study and a senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trust told the Post. "Why this study is so important: it actually provides concrete numbers."
The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, used findings from the 2010-2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to examine how, when and to whom antibiotics were being prescribed. For every 1,000 people, 506 antibiotics prescriptions were written annually, 353 of which were warranted. As the Post reported, that works out to an annual 47 million antibiotic prescriptions written for people who don't need them.
Overuse of antibiotics for every little ailment mean that bacteria are altering themselves to withstand the drugs we use to combat them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this means that some diseases we were once able to treat with antibiotics are now untreatable or more resistant, which poses a substantial global danger.
"The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world," Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra of the CDC and the report's lead author, told Gizmodo. "To combat antibiotic resistance we have to use antibiotics appropriately — only when needed and, if needed, use them correctly."