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Editorial: Overuse of antibiotics makes important drugs less effective

Nov. 14, 2012 @ 11:35 PM

Antibiotics were one of the great "wonder drug" discoveries of the 20th Century.

The development of penicillin and other drugs changed medicine forever, saving millions of lives and making many of the complex surgeries and transplants we have today possible. But almost as quickly as these infection fighters came along, researchers began to see bugs developing a resistance to the drugs.

Especially in recent years, medical experts have stressed problems can result from too much of a good thing.

This week, a report from the Center for Disease Dynamics shows that although antibiotic use has declined over the last decade, there is an increasing resistance to some drugs. That can lead to higher treatment costs, longer hospital stays and unnecessary deaths, according to a joint statement from the Center for Disease Control and 25 other health organizations.

"The more we use antibiotics, the more we contribute to the pool of antibiotic-resistant microbes," the statement says. "Over time, resistance threatens to return us to an era where simple bacterial infections will once again be deadly."

This is of particular concern for our area, because Kentucky and West Virginia lead the nation in the rate of antibiotic consumption, followed by a number of other Southeastern states. In fact, the rate of prescriptions in our region is almost 50 percent higher than the national average and more than double the rate in states such as California and Oregon.

According to the study, that can mean people in our region are at a higher risk for hard-to-treat infections. For example, urinary tract infections were found to be 30 percent more likely to resist antibiotic treatment in 2010 than in 1999, USA TODAY reported this week.

Moreover, hard-to-treat bacteria are being found more often in states where there is a high consumption of antibiotics. The report offers no explanation for why antibiotic prescriptions vary so much from one state to another, but it makes sense that the generally poor health in our region is a factor.

Certainly, the medical community and the public both have a role in protecting the effectiveness of these drugs. But especially as we head into winter, it is important that consumers remember that most colds and upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

The CDC urges patients not to demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed, do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else and do not save antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.

Using antibiotics appropriately helps preserve their effectiveness for when we really need them.

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