Despite years of consciousness-raising about the overuse of antibiotics and the consequent difficulty of developing new, effective drugs to fight infection, hospitals continue to give too many patients too many kinds of antibiotics.
A report recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that about half of all hospital patients receive antibiotics they don’t need, and that the drugs put them at risk of side effects that could make them even sicker.
This careless practice contributes to the increasing resistance of pathogens to drugs.
As we regularly blog, because antibiotics are overprescribed, “superbugs” are flourishing, and developing new drugs to fight them is increasingly harder as the invaders get stronger and stronger.
In addition to hospitals, doctors overprescribe antibiotics for a variety of reasons, and patients demand them in the belief that doing something is better than nothing. In this case, it isn’t.
The JAMA study, as described on AboutLawsuits.com, involved researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who learned that often, the antibiotics weren’t even given to treat a diagnosed infection or because hospital patients had a significant risk of infection – they were being administered to prevent infection.
It’s one thing to take some vitamin C because you think it will help fend off a cold (research shows it won’t, but small amounts won’t hurt you), and it’s quite another to take a powerful anti-bacterial drug when you don’t harbor the pathogen, nor run the risk of being in contact with it.
Apart from building resistance to medicine, overprescribing antibiotics can cause serious harms. Levaquin, for example, is part of a class of medications known as fluoroquinolones. They have been associated with severe nerve damage, tendon ruptures and other problems, and lawsuits have proliferated against its manufacturer, alleging that it offered misleading and inadequate warnings about the risk of peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage).
The drugs do carry warnings about peripheral neuropathy, but earlier versions said the incidence was rare and often resolved when the drugs were no longer used. The warnings were strengthened in 2013 to say that the drugs can cause permanent nerve damage.
Peripheral neuropathy causes pain, burning, tingling, numbness, weakness and sensitivity to light touches, temperature and motion in the arms and legs.
The most commonly overprescribed antibiotics in hospitals were these brands, or their generic equivalents:
Of the more than 11,000 hospital patients surveyed in 2011 in 183 hospitals in 10 states, not only were half given at least one antibiotic, almost 1 in 3 were given two antibiotics, 12 in 100 got three, and more than 5 in 100 were given four different antibiotics. But only about 3 in 4 actually had infections.
Others were given the drugs when they had surgery, and for about 7 in 100, remarkably, there was no documented rationale for why they got antibiotics.
As AboutLawsuits noted, treating illnesses with several different types of antibiotics simultaneously increases the patient’s risk of future infection. Often, hospitals are generous with antibiotics in an effort to treat illnesses that are difficult to diagnose early. But even after a diagnosis was made, the study showed, patients were still on several types of antibiotics.
Many antibiotics treat only specific pathogens. So if they’re not wiping out certain pathogens, they’re making them stronger, and harder to treat with the meds that have been developed for them.
If you or a loved one is hospitalized, make sure you understand every drug you’re given, whether it’s oral, intravenous or topical (cream). If you don’t have an infection and you’re given an antibiotic, find out why.