Update: How Parents Can Help Resist Overprescribing Antibiotics

Sep 5, 2017

Prescription opioids aren’t the only medication that public health officials worry about doctors over-prescribing. Another is antibiotics.

As many as 10 million antibiotic prescriptions are written each year in the U.S. -- many for infections that they are unlikely to help, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.

And if antibiotics are misused or overused, the bacteria they are designed to kill can develop resistance -- making even routine infections, such as strep throat, harder to treat.

But a new study released Monday by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association of its members shows that during the last seven years, the number of prescriptions filled by Rhode Islanders for broad-spectrum antibiotics -- those used to treat a wide range of bacteria -- declined by 20 percent. That’s compared with a national average decline of 13 percent.

Prescriptions filled for children in Rhode Island also fell 20 percent -- compared with 16 percent nationwide.

Rhode Island’s overall antibiotic prescription rate fell 15 percent, compared with 9 percent nationally.

“Antibiotic resistance as a result of excessive use is a widespread problem, but these report results show that we are making progress in our collective commitment to confront this critical public health issue,” Dr. Katherine Dallow, vice president of clinical affairs at BCBSRI, said in a statement.

But Rhode Island still has a ways to go. The state’s overall prescribing rate for antibiotics is 81.8 per 100 members -- more than three percentages point above the national median rate of 78.6.

Blue Cross’ study, based on an analysis of its members’ outpatient medical claims, comes four years after the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered new guidelines on treating respiratory tract infections in children, with the goal of reducing unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions.

Previously, national studies showed that prescriptions for broad-spectrum antibiotics increased, even when no antibiotics were needed or when a narrow-spectrum antibiotic would work.

Credit Courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

Prescribing Rates (per 100 members)

(lowest to highest)

Vermont: 59.1

Maine: 64.4

New Hampshire: 67.0

Massachusetts: 67.1

Rhode Island: 81.8

Connecticut: 82.7

National Median: 78.6

Source: BSBS

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Rhode Island's antibiotic prescribing rate as beng above the national average rate, rather than the national median rate.