Pew: Lack of comprehensive data hinders ability to curb inappropriate antibiotic use

New data from the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights trends in U.S. antibiotic use, but effective policy in the area will require more comprehensive information.

The rate at which antibiotics get prescribed in the U.S. is high relative to the rest of the world, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report. Inappropriate prescription has long been an issue, and its relationship to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has led to alarms and spurred stewardship programs designed to curb unnecessary prescriptions.

The Pew report suggests a lack of comprehensive data across all vectors of antibiotic use hampers policymakers as they attempt to gauge the true scope of the problem, implement evidence-based solutions and track their progress. Pew recommends a closer look at prescribing patterns and use across three major areas:

  • Inpatient settings: While hospitals administer antibiotics to more than half their patients, the data on how appropriate that use is remains relatively scant. Pew recommends that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make reporting mandatory in order to provide a baseline from which to measure progress, and to help policymakers implement effective interventions.
  • Outpatient settings: Previous studies that show nearly one in three antibiotic prescriptions written in the outpatient setting are inappropriate provide more of a baseline in this area than others, the report notes. However, Pew urges “better data and qualitative research on the drivers of antibiotic use” to better target future interventions.
  • Animal agriculture: The only national estimates of total antibiotic use in U.S. food animal production come from sales data, according to the report. Those numbers show a 26% increase in sales between 2009 and 2015, but information on whether and how the drugs got used, and on what animals, remains opaque. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and stakeholders in the livestock trade will need to work to collect, analyze and report on more granular metrics in order to establish a baseline and design reasonable policies to curb unnecessary use.