US children wrongly prescribed $74 million worth of antibiotics, study finds

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In the United States, non-hospitalized children received at least $74 million worth of “inappropriate” antibiotics in 2017, according to a study published Thursday. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License picture

May 26 (UPI) — Non-hospitalized American children received at least $74 million worth of “inappropriate” antibiotics in 2017, according to a study published Thursday.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Pew Charitable Trusts say the findings highlight the need for better management of antibacterial drugs away from hospitals.

According to the results of the study, which were published in the Open JAMA Network medical journal.

Patients who prescribed unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotics in places like urgent care centers or a doctor’s office rather than in a hospital were up to eight times more likely to experience complications like diarrhea or rashes than those treated according to standard medical guidelines.

“Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is unfortunately very common and results in adverse drug events and millions of dollars in preventable healthcare costs,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Anne Mobley Butlerassistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, said in a press release.

“Sometimes parents think the worst that can happen is that the antibiotic just won’t help their child,” Mobley Butler said. “But antibiotics are not harmless – they can cause adverse drug reactions. Clinicians need to ensure that antibiotics are only used in the way most likely to benefit the patient.”

The study found that doctors frequently prescribe bacteria-killing antibiotics to treat viral infections, even though the drugs don’t kill viruses.

The researchers also pointed to a previous study showing that for non-hospitalized children, about 29% of antibiotic prescriptions in the United States are inappropriate because doctors do not always follow medical guidelines.

Children who took antibiotics not recommended for bacterial infections had a three to eight times higher risk of developing Clostridioides difficile infection. The life-threatening intestinal infection causes diarrhea and inflammation linked to the death of helpful bacteria living in the digestive tract.

On a larger scale, the use of antibiotics leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs. These bacteria cause hard-to-treat infections that lead to 35,000 deaths each year in the United States.

“Taking antibiotics when they’re not needed, or taking the wrong antibiotic when needed, accelerates the threat of dangerous superbugs and has serious consequences for individual patients,” study co-author Dr. David Hyun, who leads The Pew Charitable Trusts Antibiotic Resistance Project, said in a statement.

“We hope this research will serve as a roadmap to help health systems, insurers and other healthcare organizations in their efforts to strengthen efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing, protect the health of kids and save money.”

In 2017, prescribing inappropriate antibiotics to treat bacterial ear infections cost families and insurance companies $25.3 million in excess health care costs nationwide, just for children receiving private insurance, according to the study. Researchers believe the actual cost is much higher.

It is estimated that poorly treated sore throats cost $21.3 million, sinus infections $7.1 million, flu $1.6 million and colds $19.1 million for children with private insurance.

“This study continues to show that we need to do a better job of ensuring that antibiotics are used appropriately in all health care settings,” said lead author Dr. Jason Newlandprofessor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

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