Houston, TX—Not all antibiotics used by people in the United States are dispensed by pharmacies, and that is a growing problem, according to a new study.

The report in Annals of Internal Medicine decries the use of antibiotics without a prescription, noting that the drugs can be obtained from flea markets, pet stores, health food stores, or online.

Baylor University–led researchers point out that nonprescription antibiotic use was reported in all socioeconomic and demographic groups studied.

The problem, according to the article, is that using antibiotics without a prescription risks increasing unnecessary and inappropriate drug use or doses and also threatens to increase global antimicrobial resistance.

The study team sought to review research on the prevalence of nonprescription antibiotic use in the United States and to examine the factors that influence it. To do that, researchers searched PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Scopus, and relevant websites without language restrictions from January 2000 to March 2019. The focus was on studies reporting nonprescription use of antibiotics, storage of antibiotics, intention to use antibiotics without a prescription, and factors influencing nonprescription use. Ultimately, of 17,422 screened articles, 31 met inclusion criteria.

The researchers calculated that, depending on population characteristics, prevalence of nonprescription antibiotic use varied from 1% to 66%, storage of antibiotics for future use varied from 14% to 48%, and prevalence of intention to use antibiotics without a prescription was 25%.

The study determined that antibiotics were obtained without a prescription from sources such as previously prescribed courses, local markets or stores, and family or friends.

Factors contributing to nonprescription use included:
• Easy access through markets or stores that obtain antibiotics internationally for under-the-counter sales
• Difficulty accessing the healthcare system
• Costs of physician visits
• Long waiting periods in clinics
• Transportation problems

“Nonprescription antibiotic use is a seemingly prevalent and understudied public health problem in the United States,” study authors conclude. “An increased understanding of risk factors and pathways that are amenable to intervention is essential to decrease this unsafe practice.”

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