Researchers have collected data on non-prescription antibiotic use in the United States from 31 studies between 2000 and 2019 and focused on four main populations: patients outside the healthcare setting, patients in healthcare settings, Hispanic populations and injection drug users.
Non-prescription antibiotic use includes obtaining, storing, taking or intending to take antibiotics without medical guidance. The prevalence of non-prescription antibiotic use varied from 1% (clinical patients) to 66% (Latino migrant workers), while the intention to use non-prescription antibiotics was 25% in the only study that asked. The storage of antibiotics for future use ranged from 14% to 48% across all the groups studied.
"We know that people are using antibiotics that were not prescribed to them, which is not safe and not good for their health. in literature, so we could figure out what the gaps are, "said study author Dr. Barbara Trautner, an infectious disease clinician-investigator at Baylor College of Medicine and the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who is affiliated with the Center for Innovation in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety
One of these gaps was figuring out what factors led people to self-treat and use nonprescription antibiotics. The studies cited several factors including poor health-care access, long wait times at the doctor's office, costs of antibiotics and doctor visits, lack of transportation and embarrassment of getting treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
People have taken these non-prescription antibiotics through a wide variety of sources, including prescriptions leftover and local markets that have sold antibiotics as over-the-counter medications. Other sources were family and friends, flea markets, pet stores, health food stores and online venues. Most of the antibiotics came from leftover prescriptions or friends and family members.
"The overall picture that is given here is way more detailed than I would have known about, especially the various sources," said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved with study. "This is important for this study is that [nonprescription antibiotic use] is a form of antibiotic use that contributes to the burden of antibiotic resistance."
Nonprescription of antibiotic use in the United States has not been studied extensively, but studies in Europe have shown an association between high nonprescription drug use and high levels of antibiotic resistance, according to Dr. Larissa Grigoryan, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, who is also affiliated with the Center for Innovation in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety