Antibiotics Aren’t Always What the Doctor Orders

By Lauren Wanko

A sore throat and cough prompted patient Casey Befumo to visit with her doctor, except she’s not necessarily looking for an antibiotic.

“I rather do home remedies — water, rest, fluids,” she said.

That’s welcome news to Meridian Medical Group’s Dr. Ladan Ilkhani. She says about half her patients want a prescription for antibiotics they don’t need.

Why does she think that is? “They expect to get something when you come to a doctor, just like when I go to a store I expect to get something. They treat it in that kind of setting. They want to feel better and the mentality is that antibiotics will do that,” she said.

“It’s absolutely shocking how much antibiotics are used that are probably unnecessary. We estimate that about 50 percent of all antibiotics that are prescribed for respiratory infections are unnecessary,” said Dr. Lauri Hicks.

The CDC’s Dr. Hicks says the agency has lots of data that reveals over-prescribing is quite common. It can lead to antibiotic resistance. The CDC indicates each year, nationwide at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

“I’ll take a very simple antibiotic for, example penicillin. Antibiotic resistance basically means bacteria that used to be able to take penicillin and be killed by penicillin have now found a way to manipulate their cells to not let the penicillin kick in, and that’s scary,” Dr. Ilkhani said.

Which is why Casey, a mom of two, tries to limit the antibiotics her kids take too.

“With my children growing up, I want them to be able to fight off some kind of disease they may get in the future that they might need antibiotics for,” she said.

Another problem? Serious, adverse events, says Dr. Hicks.

“They’re actually a leading reason for emergency room visits for drug side effects. They’re responsible for one out of every five visits. The problem is not only is this costly from an individual standpoint, but these adverse events account for more than $30 billion in excess health care costs each year,” she said.

Antibiotics cannot treat viruses like the flu and common cold, says the doctor.

“Bronchitis, ear infections, sometimes even sore throat, sinus infections, you know a lot of times certain viruses cause these and they won’t help if you take antibiotics,” Dr. Ilkhani said.

The doctor just started giving out a medical goodie bag of sorts to patients looking for an antibiotic that they don’t really need. It’s full of over the counter medications that can be used to alleviate many of the cold and allergy symptoms that patients think they need a prescription for.

For patients with a sore throat like Casey, Dr. Ilkhani performs a quick strep test. If it’s positive, then she’ll prescribe an antibiotic.

“But a lot of the times when the test is negative we just say there are some over the counter medications you can take, lozenges, fluid, rest and of course follow up if the symptoms don’t get better,” Dr. Ilkhani said.

Which is exactly what the doctor prescribed to Casey.