New Research Shows Significant Overuse of Antibiotics in Some Parts of U.S.

Nov 17, 2011, 8:54 AM, Posted by

New research on antibiotic use in the U.S. suggests a pattern of outpatient overuse of the drugs in parts of the country—particularly in the Southeast, according to Extending the Cure, a research project from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. The findings were published during Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work, a week-long campaign that urges Americans to use antibiotics wisely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that $1.1 billion is spent annually on unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for adult upper respiratory infections alone. The CDC says such prescriptions speed the development of antibiotic resistance.

Interactive maps released by Extending the Cure track antibiotic use in the U.S. from 1999 to 2007 and while they show that overall antibiotic dispensing has decreased by about 12 percent, they also highlight "alarmingly high" antibiotic use across the Southeast compared to states in the Pacific Northwest. For example, residents of West Virginia and Kentucky, where antibiotic use rates are highest, take about twice as many antibiotics per capita as people living in Oregon and Alaska.

The five states with the highest antibiotic use in the nation are West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama, but the maps show high antibiotic use in other parts of the country as well:

  • Prescribing rates for a powerful class of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones grew by 49 percent from 1999 to 2007. These drugs are now seven times less likely to work against Escherichia coli, the most frequent cause of bacterial infections, than they were in 1999.
  • Penicillins remain the most popular antibiotics, accounting for nearly one out of three prescriptions filled in the United States. But their use has declined by 28 percent as physicians increasingly turn to more powerful antibiotics.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.