How to save our mir­a­cle drugs

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

This is ex­cerpted from an ed­i­to­rial by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Ama­jor pub­lic-health dan­ger that lan­guished for too long is at last get­ting more at­ten­tion. An­tibi­otic re­sis­tance, the ten­dency of bac­te­ria to fight back against an­tibi­otics, has been known to ex­ist for decades but was of­ten met with com­pla­cency. Now there is a grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that these mir­a­cle drugs could lose their punch.

Re­cently, Restau­rant Brands In­ter­na­tional an­nounced that by next year it would seek to elim­i­nate from its chicken sup­ply the use of an­tibi­otics im­por­tant for hu­man medicine. Ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, 11 of the top 15 restau­rant chains in the U.S. have now com­mit­ted to some level of re­spon­si­ble an­tibi­otic use in chicken.

Agri­cul­ture in­ter­ests have for decades de­fended the use of an­tibi­otics in food an­i­mals that are not sick, in or­der to stim­u­late faster growth on the same amount of feed. Some 70 per­cent of all med­i­cally im­por­tant an­tibi­otics sold in the United States are given to an­i­mals, and that is a ma­jor fac­tor driv­ing an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempted to stop the use of an­tibi­otics for growth pro­mo­tion, and data ex­pected this year should of­fer the first ev­i­dence of whether the pol­icy is work­ing.

An­tibi­otics also have been overused among hu­mans. A new re­port from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion says that nearly a third of all an­tibi­otics pre­scribed in out­pa­tient clin­ics are un­nec­es­sary and roughly 30 per­cent of an­tibi­otics used in hos­pi­tals are un­nec­es­sary or pre­scribed in­cor­rectly. Much bet­ter an­tibi­otic stew­ard­ship is needed: tools and train­ing to help doc­tors, nurses and oth­ers make care­ful de­ci­sions. The in­flu­en­tial Joint Com­mis­sion, which ac­cred­its and cer­ti­fies about 21,000 health care or­ga­ni­za­tions and pro­grams in the U.S., has put into place new stan­dards for an­tibi­otic use, ef­fec­tive this year.

If real ef­forts are made to re­strain overuse for both hu­mans and an­i­mals, im­prove surveil­lance and di­ag­nos­tics, and dis­cover new com­pounds, the great ben­e­fits of these mir­a­cle drugs may be pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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