Overprescribing antibiotics fuelling drug-resistant bacteria

A new study reveals Australian GPs are heavily overprescribing antibiotics.

The research found they're doling out between four and nine times as many antibiotics for throat and lung infections as they should.

And there are concerns New Zealand doctors are doing the same.

"Australia did have a decline in their prescribing rate during the 1990s and through to the early 2000s," says study author, Professor Paul Glasziou, "But since 2003 our rates of prescribing have been going back up again and they're even higher than they were."

The Bond University study shows GPs could lower the rates of prescribing by around three quarters, if national guidelines were followed.

The concern is that it's fuelling drug resistant bacteria.

"We're going to run out of antibiotics, they'll no longer be effective," says Professor Glasziou.

Auckland Infectious Disease Physician, Mark Thomas, says New Zealand GPs too are overprescribing antibiotics.

"Ninety-five percent of antibiotics consumed by people in New Zealand are prescribed in the community, almost all by General Practitioners," says Dr Thomas.

And the more we use antibiotics the more we'll see infections that are hard or impossible to treat.

"I'm seeing the occasional patient with infections that we just can't cure, the occasional patient for whom cutting off the infected piece of tissue is the only way of curing the infection, or who die as a result of the infection," says Dr Thomas.

He's calling for GPs to cut back.

"It will be hard for General Practitioners to do, but it's a necessary thing for the doctors to do and a it's a necessary thing for the patients to accept."

If we don't address the problem, it's estimated antimicrobial resistance will cause 22,000 deaths every year in Oceania by 2050.

The Ministry of Health is due to release its Antimicrobial Resistance Strategic Action Plan in the next couple of weeks.

But while GPs are writing the prescriptions, we are the ones demanding them, so it will take a joint effort to make a difference.