November 22, 2023

In The News: Leftover Antibiotics ‘Major Barrier to Antimicrobial Stewardship’

Reporting on survey results of antibiotic use, Healio reports nearly half of respondents prescribed antibiotics stop their treatment early. Three-quarters shared they save leftover antibiotics for future use. This mirrors findings from previous antibiotic surveys where respondents shared frequent nonprescription use and likelihood to do again in the future. Researchers conducting the survey called the leftover antibiotics and the misuse a “major barrier to antimicrobial stewardship” and suggested better education on safe antibiotic use.

Researchers used the survey to learn the rates and reasons patients stopped taking prescribed antibiotics and what was done with the remaining antibiotics if they failed to complete the prescription. It was administered to patients at both public and private clinics. Of those who reported stopping treatment early, those from a private clinic were comparatively more likely to stop than those from a public clinic, 52% vs 42%.

Those who stopped early, overall, did so because they reported they felt better (77%) or because they forgot to finish all of the prescription (18%). Of those, 74% shared they kept the leftovers and 51% intended to use the leftovers in the future, regardless of provider advice. Participants shared they had used leftover antibiotics for COVID-19, colds, allergies, pain management, among other issues.

The survey was conducted among 564 patients at six public and two private primary care clinics in Houston between January 2020 and June 2021.

PIDS PCAS chair Alison Tribble commented on the story, “Unmonitored use of leftover antibiotics poses yet another challenge in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. As reported in this study, such use is often inappropriate, including for viral infections and non-infectious conditions. Most people acquired leftover antibiotics because they stopped taking prescribed antibiotics early due to feeling better – likely because antibiotics were prescribed for longer than necessary or weren’t even needed in the first place. Clinicians can counter this behavior by prescribing antibiotics only when clearly indicated and for the shortest effective duration possible. They should also educate patients on disposal of unused antibiotics and advise patients to call when they are concerned that they might need an antibiotic. Efforts to improve healthcare access and community knowledge of safe and appropriate antibiotic use are also important steps in limiting use of nonprescription antibiotics.”

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