Improper use of antibiotics can lead to resistant strains of disease-causing organisms
Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged on a table in this picture illustration taken in Ljubljana September 18, 2013. Reuters/Srdjan Zivulovic

A Bond University study has for the first time pointed out, or rather, quantified, the real extent of antibiotic over-prescription in Australia. The study shows how a number of general physicians (GPs) do not follow national guidelines for antibiotics.

These GPs are reportedly prescribing four to nine times as many antibiotics for lung and throat infections as they should be. According to the researcher involved in the study, if a new patient pays a visit to a GP in Australia, there is a 50-50 chance they will prescribe antibiotics. While over-prescribing and over-using antibiotics have been a major health concern for decades, public health authorities are ringing the alarm bell as drug resistance reaches crisis levels.

Antibiotics overuse has rendered previously treatable bacteria strains untreatable. The researchers are of the opinion that the potential to reduce prescription rate of antibiotics, thereby reducing antibiotic-related harm, is the need of the hour. The researchers added that they are extremely concerned about bacterial resistance and that data from the study is “the basis for setting absolute targets for reducing antibiotic prescribing in Australian general practice.”

“Health literacy is 9/10 of the plan. It's important to understand what role the antibiotics play. What is the condition? What is the likely cause of your condition and what are the steps that you need to take. Often just fluids, rest and time will cure the vast majority of respiratory conditions... They (antibiotics) are now becoming a very precious resource... We need to ensure that the pipeline of developing antibiotics is getting smaller,” Federal Vice-President of the AMA Tony Bartone told Sky News.

Prof. Christopher Del Mar, head researcher, said that Australian GPs must adhere closely to national therapeutic guideline recommendations before prescribing antibiotics. According to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald, concerns have also been raised about antibiotic misuse in farming and in hospitals.

In 2014, almost 40 percent of patients in Australian hospitals were prescribed antimicrobials, half of which were prescribed inappropriately flouting guidelines. In June, 5,300 Australian GPs were sent letters, warning them of their higher than average rate of antibiotic prescription.

The Department of Health is closely monitoring dispensing of antibiotics. Experts believe that Australia needs a better management and educational program. Initiatives must be taken to delay prescription of antibiotics and using test kits to ascertain whether antibiotics are at all needed. Stay tuned on IBT AU for more updates on antibiotic overuse in Australia.