November 20, 2017
Member Corner: How Antibiotic Overuse Can Lead to Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics are used to kill or slow the growth of bacteria in the case of infection. While antibiotics are important and can be life-saving medications, their use is not always safe and appropriate. Different antibiotics treat different infections. When antibiotics are used inappropriately or for the wrong infections, bacteria may develop a resistance to the antibiotic. This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance leads to longer periods of infection. In the United States, antibiotic resistant infections cost the health care system nearly $20 billion a year and result in $35 billion in lost productivity.1

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one-third to one-half of antibiotic use is thought to be inappropriate.2 Inappropriate antibiotic use occurs when a patient or prescriber uses them to treat a condition (e.g., chronic bronchitis) that cannot be resolved with the use of antibiotics. There are a number of reasons why antibiotics may not be the best solution, such as:

  • The condition may be viral.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines could relieve the symptoms.
  • The risks may outweigh the benefits.

Inappropriate antibiotic use also can occur when a provider fails to follow guidelines when prescribing a medication. It is critical that the provider prescribe the right product at the right strength and duration.2

Approximately 47 million instances of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed each year.3 Fortunately, it is not difficult for individuals to help reduce antibiotic resistance. Here are some simple steps you can take to fight antibiotic resistance.

  1. Don’t go to your doctor’s office with the expectation of getting an antibiotic every time you have symptoms of a cold or flu. There are a number of over-the-counter medicines that effectively relieve common cold and flu symptoms. Choose nasal sprays to relieve congestion, lozenges to soothe a sore throat, and pain relievers when appropriate.
  2. Take antibiotics as directed. Do not skip doses or save them for future use.
  3. Take all of the doses of your medication, even after you start to feel better. 
  4. Do not share antibiotics, or any prescriptions, with family members or friends.

By taking these steps, you can play an important role in reducing the overuse of antibiotics and reducing antibiotic resistance.2,3

1Ventola CL. The antibiotic resistance crisis: part 1: causes and threats. P&T. 2015;40(4):277-83.
Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Updated November 14, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2017.
3CDC: 1 in 3 Antibiotic Prescriptions Unnecessary. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Published May 3, 2016. Updated January 1, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2017.

by Jessica Darling