Arkansas doctors being asked to slow the prescription of antibiotics

A pharmacist at Rhea Drug in Little Rock counts out an antibiotic prescription. The Arkansas Department of Health is now urging doctors curtail the practice and only prescribe antibiotics when it's appropriate. (Photo: KATV)

They're powerful, life saving drugs, but antibiotics are being prescribed in Arkansas at a much higher rate than the national average.

Arkansas ranks as the sixth highest state for the prescription of antibiotics per capita, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control.

"We give out more than one prescription for every person in Arkansas each year," said Dr. Gary Wheeler, chief medical officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.

While antibiotics certainly have their place in medicine, their overuse or misuse may result in them not being very useful at all.

"If we have lots of germs in Arkansas being exposed to lots of antibiotics, we're going to start to see highly resistant bacteria," said Wheeler.

The result are superbugs, antibiotic resistant infections, that become extremely difficult to treat.

"So the usual first line of antibiotics may not work at all," said Wheeler. "We may have to go to the second line or third line and we've seen in the United States and in Arkansas some bacteria that are pretty much resistant to all antibiotics."

Doctors have used antibiotics for a litany of ailments, including viral infections which viruses have zero effect on. It's a practice and tradition that Wheeler said needs to be interrupted and for doctors to, "recognize that there are better ways to take care of our patients."

Wheeler said just as ADH is encouraging doctors to curtail the prescription of antibiotics, they're also encouraging patients to ask their doctors if an antibiotic is actually necessary for treatment or not.

"We're encouraging doctors to use antibiotics when they're appropriate and not use them when they're not," said Wheeler.

Antibiotics also tend to have side effects like diarrhea. Clostridium difficile, also known as “C. diff”, is a bacteria that typically develops in patients taking antibiotics, that can become severe and possibly result in the loss of intestines and in rare cases even death.

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