Experts have warned that overprescribing antibiotics can drive drug-resistant bacteria. Despite this danger, U.S. hospitals continue to overuse these drugs.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have revealed that between the years 2006 and 2012, the use of antibiotics in hospitals did not change. Worse, use of a class of drugs that is linked most closely to antibiotic resistance even increased.
For the new study, which was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Sept. 19, CDC epidemiologist James Baggs and colleagues looked at the data of about 300 hospitals and over 34 million patients who were hospitalized during the study period between 2006 and 2012 to investigate adult and pediatric antibiotic use.
Over this period, 55 percent of the patients who were discharged from the hospital have taken at least one dose of antibiotic. The researchers also found that for every 1,000 days of hospitalization, 755 of these days included antibiotic therapy.
While overall use of antibiotics did not change significantly during this six-year period, the researchers found significant increase in the use of several antibiotic classes which include macrolides, glycopeptides, third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins, carbapenems and tetracyclines.
"Overall DOT of all antibiotics among hospitalized patients in US hospitals has not changed significantly in recent years," the researchers wrote in their study.
"Our findings can help inform national efforts to improve antibiotic use by suggesting key targets for improvement interventions."
Ateev Mehrotra, from Harvard Medical School, said that there has been an increase in broad-spectrum antibiotics in hospitals where the sickest patients are. Mehrotra described broad-spectrum antibiotics as the "big guns" when it comes to acting against bacteria.
Mehrotra, who co-authored an accompanying journal editorial, said that increase in use of this class of antibiotics raises concern as this could lead to bacteria that are broadly resistant. He added that doctors are aware they are prescribing too many antibiotics.
"We've known for decades that there are too many antibiotics being used," Mehrotra said. "This is about the fact that doctors are human -- doctors think patients want antibiotics,"
Mehrotra said that strategies can be adopted as there are ways to get doctors to prescribe fewer antibiotics. Physicians, for instance, could be asked to justify the use of antibiotics on the medical record, which could help them stop and think before they prescribe. Patients can also do their part by asking their doctor why they are prescribed antibiotics and if its use is really necessary.