Overwhelming Number Of People Found To Abuse Antibiotics, Scientists Warn Of Increased Antibiotic Resistance

Bottles of antibiotics line a shelf at a Publix Supermarket pharmacy August 7, 2007 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

A study has alerted the public to a vast number of people in the United States abusing antibiotics, reported CNN. The study, published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, warns that the abuse of antibiotics, or taking antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription, is a public health problem that can lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Researchers gathered data from studies compiled between the years of 2000 and 2019 that looked at nonprescription antibiotic use in the United States. The data focused on four specific groups of people: patients outside a health care setting, patients in health care settings, Hispanic populations, and injection drug users.

The study identified nonprescription antibiotic use as obtaining, storing, taking, or intending to take antibiotics without the prescription or guidance of a medical professional, and found shocking results as far as the percentage of people taking part in nonprescription antibiotic use.

In one study, it was found that 25 percent of participants indicated that they would use nonprescription antibiotics while another noted a whopping 66 percent of nonprescription antibiotic use in Latino migrant workers. Yet another study found that the percentage of people who stored antibiotics for future use ranged from 14 percent to 48 percent across all groups.

The researchers attempted to discover the driving factors behind nonprescription antibiotic use, noting poor health-care access, long wait times at the doctor’s office, costs of antibiotics and doctor visits, lack of transportation, and shame around getting medical treatment for sexually transmitted infections as the key factors.

Study author Dr. Barbara Trautner commented on the study’s findings.

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“We know that people are using antibiotics that weren’t prescribed to them, which isn’t safe and isn’t good for their health. So in order to tackle the problem we absolutely had to know what was already out there in the literature so we could figure out what the gaps are.”

Another gap that the study’s authors attempted to identify was how people were acquiring nonprescription antibiotics. Most people were storing leftover antibiotics for future use while many others obtained the medications from local markets that sold antibiotics over-the-counter. Others were able to use antibiotics left over from family and friends or even find them at flea markets, pet stores, health food stores, and online venues.

Experts have commented on the results of the study, noting that the findings are worrisome when it comes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Previous studies have showed a link between nonprescription drug overuse and high levels of antibiotic resistance. The risks of antibiotic resistance include the need for extensive and expensive medical interventions, and in some cases, death.