Doctors–the very people who rely on antibiotics the most to do their jobs–are worried about their efficacy and over-use. And they’re seeing the consequences, right up close and personal.
When the Consumer Reports (CR) National Research Center polled 500 family practice and internal medicine physicians last month, 97 percent said they were concerned about the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections, or “superbugs,” and 93 percent drew a direct connection to livestock production, which accounts for 80 percent of antibiotics use here in the U.S.
The results were published today in a report called Prescription For Change [PDF], presented by a group of organizations that includes CR, Health Care Without Harm, USPIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Physicians Alliance, among others.
These doctors’ perspectives have been shaped by their direct experiences with patients for whom the antibiotics they prescribe have stopped working. According to the report, a whopping 85 percent of the doctors polled had seen “one or more of their patients had been diagnosed with a presumed or confirmed case of a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in the past 12 months.” Even more importantly, more than one third of those doctors had seen a patient “either die or suffer significant complications as a result of the illness.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least two million are sickened by drug-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die.
Meanwhile, the most recent numbers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that antibiotic use in the livestock sector–where they have been used not only to prevent illness, but also to speed up the animals’ growth–increased by 16 percent over the period 2009-2012.
In response, the FDA announced late last year that it was implementing a plan to help phase out the use of medically important antibiotics on farms. But, as critics have pointed out, that plan involves voluntary regulations on the part of livestock producers and pharmaceutical company and is therefor mostly symbolic.
In the meantime, doctors are joining a long line of public health experts sounding the alarm on the over use of antibiotics in animals. Whether any real government action will take place is to be seen.