By Jonathan Springston, Associate Managing Editor, AHC Media

Doctors produce about 47 million excess antibiotic prescriptions each year, putting patients at risk for harm, according to an exhaustive study from the CDC, Pew Charitable Trusts, and other medical experts.

Using the 2010–2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, researchers broke down U.S. outpatient visits resulting in antibiotic prescriptions by age, region, and diagnosis. Roughly one-third of these prescriptions were for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, such as sinus infections and sore throats.

Meanwhile, EDs across the country continue operating on short supplies of critical access drugs, such as antibiotics, painkillers, and sedatives, despite a 2012 federal intervention designed to reduce this problem. So while some Americans ingest high-powered antibiotics to stave off a runny nose or wash down opioids with bourbon and fast food for entertainment, other patients in actual need may go wanting.

In Washington, there is growing concern that as long as Americans continue leaning on antibiotics to solve every malady, the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria grows. Last year, the White House released “The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria,” a document that calls for the reduction of inappropriate outpatient antibiotic prescriptions by half by 2020. The CDC/Pew study brings into focus just how high this mountain is to climb.

“Setting a national target to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in outpatient settings is a critical first step to improve antibiotic use and protect patients,” said Lauri Hicks, DO, director of the Office of Antibiotic Stewardship in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC, and commander in the U.S. Public Health Service. “We must continue to work together across the entire healthcare continuum to make sure that antibiotics are prescribed only when needed, and when an antibiotic is needed that the right antibiotic, dose, and duration are selected.”

Look for more information and debate on antibiotic stewardship in future issues of AHC Media offerings such as Pharmacology Watch, Hospital Employee Health, and Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.