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.