Nearly a third of antibiotics prescribed in doctors' offices, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics in the United States are not needed, according to the most in-depth study yet to examine the use and misuse of these life-saving drugs.
The finding, which has implications for antibiotics' diminished efficacy, translates to about 47 million unnecessary prescriptions given out each year across the country to children and adults. Most of these are for conditions that don't respond to antibiotics, such as colds, sore throats, bronchitis, flu and other viral illnesses.
Although health officials have been warning for decades about the overuse of antibiotics and its contribution to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, the research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Charitable Trust is the first to quantify the depth of the problem.
"We've all been hearing, 'This is a problem, this is problem,' and we all understood the general concept that there is a lot of antibiotic use," said David Hyun, a senior officer with Pew's antibiotic resistance project and one of the authors of the report published Tuesday in JAMA. Pew also published a companion report using the same data.