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Antibiotic overuse problem in state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Painkillers aren't the only dangerous prescription drugs taking the Mountain State by storm.

In 2010, the state had more antibiotic drug prescriptions than people — 1,177 for every 1,000 residents — according to a new report from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Only Kentucky ranked higher in per-capita antibiotic use, with 1,196 prescriptions per 1,000 people in 2010, according to the report. Nationally, there were about 801 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 people that year.

Health officials say the overuse of antibiotics is helping breed stronger, more resilient bugs that cannot be treated using conventional medicines.

Researchers found urinary tract infections, the second-most common type of infection in the United States, are becoming more difficult to treat because antibiotics previously used to treat UTIs are losing their effectiveness.

"Without proper antibiotic treatment, UTIs can turn into bloodstream infections, which are much more serious and can be life-threatening," Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the CDDEP's "Extending the Cure" program, said in a statement.

"There are few new antibiotics to replace the ones that are becoming less effective. New drug development needs to target the types of drug-resistant bacteria that cause these infections," he said.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said many of the antibiotic prescriptions filled in the state are not necessary.

He said patients often go to their doctors for a cold, sore throat or the flu, expecting to leave the office with a prescription to cure what ails them. They want an antibiotic.

There's a problem, however. The common cold, sore throats and the flu are caused by viral infections, and antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infections.

But Gupta said doctors are pressed for time and rather than take the time to explain the situation to their patients, some would rather scribble out a prescription for a drug that will not work.

"As a result the cost to humans, as well as the financial cost, goes up exponentially," he said.

Patients are paying for drugs they do not need. Others are racking up big hospital bills when they develop drug-resistant infections. Pharmaceutical companies are funding research for new antibiotics that would likely be unnecessary if patients and doctors were more judicious about their antibiotic use.

Alaska had the nation's lowest per-capita antibiotic use in 2010, with 510 prescriptions per 1,000 people.

Despite West Virginia's high numbers, the data shows antibiotic use fell slightly in the last decade. In 1999, there were 1,191 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 residents. In 2007, there were 1,222 prescriptions per 1,000 people.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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