New Study suggests 1 in 3 Antibiotics prescribed in USA are Unnecessary

  • Mar 01st, 2016
  • Guy Paterson

According to recent research by the Centre for Disease Control and the Pew Charitable Trust, a major portion of antibiotics prescribed in the USA are unnecessary and actually pose a potential threat to nationwide health in their misuse due to the threat of the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Of the 154 million outpatient clinic visits in the USA last year, about 13% of them resulted in the prescription of an antibiotic; of these, 40% are used to treat acute respiratory conditions. Of that 40%, about half (read: 20% of 13% of 154 million, or roughly 4 million in absolute numbers) were totally unnecessary, as the conditions in question were viral, and therefore unaffected by any amount of antibiotic.  

Frighteningly, these numbers could be overly conservative estimates, as the study didn’t take into account the incidences where antibiotics are prescribed over the telephone, by nurse practitioner, by physicians assistants, urgent care clinics, retail pharmacies, or dentists office.

The obvious question that arises is “why are so many antibiotics being prescribed unnecessarily?”. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Doctors concerned about patient satisfaction may buckle under pressure from similarly well meaning family members of patients and prescribe antibiotics even in unnecessary cases to give a greater feeling of receiving treatment.

To combat this disconcerting trend and the strengthening of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths per year, the white house has introduced a plan to cut unnecessary prescription of antibiotics by 50%. Furthermore, on the ground level, many physicians are cutting their use of the drugs, which can be achieved by such simple measures as meaningful discussion with patients or the display of a poster in the waiting room of a clinic.


Guy Paterson

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