Overprescription of Antibiotics in the United States

”At least 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to new data published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts and other public health and medical experts”

Of the 30% of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed, 44% are to treat something that cannot be treated with antibiotics.

23,000 people die each year in the United States from 2 million antibiotic resistant infection cases.

Antibiotics are prescribed in the US to treat bacterial infections or any illness caused by bacteria.

However, antibiotics are prescribed for viruses, like the common cold, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.

The common cold can simply be treated with cough syrups, pain relievers, and nasal sprays. Not antibiotics.

20% of ER visits are due to antibiotics. Of the 20%, 80% were allergic reactions but the other 20% are psychological or neurological disorders


What is the purpose of antibiotics?

Antibiotics stops:

  • A disease from spreading
  • Bacterial infections within a patient
  • Severe symptoms from a disease

How does something become antibiotic resistant?

The Mayo Clinic defines antibiotic resistance as “a bacterium resists a medication when the bacterium has changed in some way.”

Basically, the bacteria mutates in order to resist the antibiotic. When that happens, not only does a bacterium mutate itself, but it can also make other bacterium antibiotic resistant by passing that mutation along to another bacteria.

What are common illnesses where antibiotics are prescribed but not needed?

  • “Cold
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Bronchitis
  • Most coughs
  • Some ear infections
  • Some sinus infections
  • Stomach flu”

EXAMPLE: My throat hurts. Do I need an antibiotic?

  • If your doctor tells you you have strep throat, you do need an antibiotic because strep throat is caused by a bacteria
  • If your doctor tells you you have a sore throat, you do not need an antibiotic because a sore throat is caused by a virus

What’s being done in medical buildings and hospitals to stop the issue?

Hospitals and medical buildings are putting in place stricter guidelines to prevent bacterium from becoming antibiotic resistant.

  • Delayed prescription
    • Instead of prescribing prescriptions immediately, a doctor will wait to see if the illness will get better with another type of treatment.
  • “Watchful Waiting”
    • A doctor will keep an eye on the patient and see if an antibiotic is the only way to treat an illness.
  • Education
    • “Health systems can improve antibiotic prescribing in offices and outpatient facilities within their networks by providing communications training, clinical decision support, patient and health care provider education, and feedback to providers on their performance.”
  •  Communication between doctor and patient
    • The patient should ask the doctor if antibiotics are really needed and what the possible risks of are of contracting an antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • “Antibiotic Stewardship”
    • Using antibiotics in the right way can help to:
      • Make current antibiotics stronger
      • Give a longer shelf-life
      • Stop the spreading of bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant
      • Eliminates all the unnecessary side effects from taking an antibiotic that’s not needed
  • Delaying antibiotics to make sure they are absolutely necessary

What are the consequences of taking antibiotics I don’t need?

Taking antibiotics you don’t need can cause serious side effects such as allergic reactions that can be easily avoided and diarrhea (clostridium difficile) that can kill people. Other effects that can happen is people get more ill than they were to began with. Patients also pay more money for a medicine they don’t need, take a longer time to recover from their illness, and can even end up in the hospital several times when they don’t need to.

World Health Organization (WHO) says that we’re taking steps back in medical advancements and “it may also result in simple infections becoming unmanageable and potentially fatal [World Health Organization, 2012a, 2012b].”

Just one organism, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), kills more Americans every year than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and homicide combined [Infectious Diseases Society of America et al. 2011].”


What is the government doing about the issue?

2015: Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB) has laid out plan that by 2020, 15% of the 30% of unneeded prescribed antibiotics

2016: Congress gives CDC “$160 million” for the CDC to help CARB reach the goal of only 15% of prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary by 2020. This money will be used track how many prescriptions are unnecessary and do more research to provide the public and health care professionals with more information.

What can I do to spread awareness about the issue?

  • Next time you visit your doctor for an illness, ask them about how they can best treat you and do not ask them to give you an antibiotic
  • Get your vaccinations! They stop you from getting bacterial infections
  • Follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you. Don’t stop taking antibiotics once you feel better. If you stop taking the antibiotics before your doctor tells you to, you are making the bacterial infection you have, antibiotic resistant
  • When you get sick, don’t go looking through your medicine cabinet and take something you think will help. What you have might not even be caused by a bacteria so antibiotics won’t help
  • Don’t take someone else’s prescribed medications. Medicines affect everyone differently so it’s best to talk to your primary care physician to find the best treatment for you

The CDC has created a website to provide more information on antibiotic resistant awareness. Share the link with friends, family, and people at your school:

Antibiotic Prescribing and Use



CDC. (2018). CDC Press Releases. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]. (2018). Common cold – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Apr. 2018].

Mayo Clinic. (2018). Antibiotics: Are you misusing them?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2018].

YouTube. (2018). Antibiotic overuse putting patients at risk, Centers for Disease Control says. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].

YouTube. (2018). What causes antibiotic resistance? – Kevin Wu. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].

Llor, C. and Bjerrum, L. (2018). Antimicrobial resistance: risk associated with antibiotic overuse and initiatives to reduce the problem. [online] NCBI. Available at: [Accessed 12 Apr. 2018].

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  1. April 29, 2018 by KaylaAdams

    I found your topic about overmedicating antibiotics so interesting because in my Abnormal Psychology class, we’ve been talking about how the United States overprescribes antipsychotic drugs for those with mental illnesses. What’s worse is that the drugs only end up being half as effective as pharmaceutical companies claim they’ll be and yet so many people develop a dependency on them. In your call to action in which you suggest that patients ask their doctor what else can be done besides taking antibiotics, I think you really brought up an important point. The overprescribing of medications of all types in the United States isn’t going to change unless consumers themselves put forth an effort to look for other ways to invest their money into treatment methods that don’t have to deal with medications.

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