New research from the Canadian Institute for Health Information reveals that Canadian doctors are prescribing 33 per cent more antibiotics on average than doctors in most other OECD countries, with health care advocates now warning about the perils of over-prescription leading to antibiotic resistance.
Next week is World Antibiotic Awareness Week, promoted by the World Health Organization to help bring attention to a serious health concern which is threatening to undercut many of the medical breakthroughs of the 20th century.
“Antibiotic resistance is a global crisis that we cannot ignore,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “If we don’t tackle this threat with strong, coordinated action, antimicrobial resistance will take us back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”
A number of bacterial infections such as Streptococcus, tuberculosis and gonorrhea have developed strains resistant to commonly used antibiotics like penicillin, with some (the so-called superbugs) having reached the point where adequate drug treatment is no longer available.
And overprescription is only contributing to the problem, say health researchers. The new study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) looked at data comparing health indicators from the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and found that for the year 2015, more than 25 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written —nearly one for every Canadian adult between the ages of 20 and 65.
Canadians take 21 doses of antibiotics per day for every 1,000 people, which puts them fourthamong a list of equivalent OECD countries. France was found to give out the most prescriptions, with 30 doses per 1,000 people, followed by New Zealand at 26 per 1,000 and Australia at 23 per 1,000.
“Our data shows that there is overuse and misuse of antibiotics across the country,” says Kathleen Morris, vice president of research and analysis with the CIHI, in a press release. “The unnecessary use of antibiotics can be harmful for vulnerable patients, decreases the effectiveness of antibiotics over time and puts us at larger risk of antibiotic resistance.”
The study found that Canadian physicians prescribe 33 per cent more antibiotics than their peers in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany and that, across all OECD countries, three out of five antibiotic prescriptions are given out inappropriately, for conditions not effectively treated by antibiotics such as the common cold and related symptoms.
“This is a very concerning issue, one that affects not only Canadians but people worldwide,” says Dr. Wendy Levinson with Choosing Wisely Canada, a campaign led by health care providers to address the issue of unnecessary medical testing, treatments and procedures. “Clearly, Canada has not been the most responsible steward of the weakening global antibiotics supply.”
Along with overprescription, the WHO is highlighting the damage caused by overuse of antibiotics in the agriculture industry, calling on farmers to stop using antibiotics on healthy animals. In some countries, an estimated 80 per cent of the total antibiotic consumption occurs within animal production.