Kentucky has highest antibiotic prescribing rate in U.S.; campaign aims to curb overuse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A new public health campaign is highlighting the need for education and awareness on antibiotic overuse in Kentucky, the state with the highest rate of antibiotic use in the United States.

Although antibiotics are important life-saving drugs that treat bacterial infections – including strep throat and urinary tract infections – their overuse can lead to drug resistance, which occurs when antibiotics no longer cure infections that they should treat, said Bethany Wattles, Pharm.D., clinical pharmacist in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

Kentucky Antibiotic Awareness, a statewide campaign to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use, is led by health professional researchers at the UofL Department of Pediatrics Antimicrobial Stewardship Program with collaboration and financial support from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Department of Medicaid Services. The campaign provides education and resources to Kentucky health care providers and the public.

“If we continue to overuse antibiotics, even minor infections will become untreatable. This is a serious public health threat,” Wattles said. “To combat the spread of antibiotic resistance, we must use antibiotics only when necessary.”

Examining antibiotic prescriptions for Kentucky children on Medicaid, researchers found that the rate of antibiotic use has been especially high in Eastern Kentucky. In some areas, children are receiving three-times more antibiotic prescriptions than the national average, Wattles said.

Antibiotics are most frequently used for upper respiratory infections, many of which are caused by viruses that antibiotics do not kill.

The majority of antibiotic prescribing is done in outpatient settings, which include medical offices, urgent care facilities, retail clinics and emergency departments. An estimated 30 to 50 percent of this antibiotic use is considered inappropriate, Wattles said.

When antibiotics are prescribed, it is important to take them as instructed; do not share the medicine with others or save for later use.

To learn more, visit the KAA website. Health care providers are encouraged to join the KAA Listserv for newsletter updates.

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