Healthy People

Is There a Pill for That?

Overuse of antibiotics threatens health

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but penicillin discoverer Alexander Fleming hadn’t even left the stage with his 1945 Nobel Prize before warning that, if used improperly, an antibiotic would help illness-causing microorganisms evolve to become drug resistant.

Fleming’s prediction has come true. Antibiotic resistance is a growing global threat. Every year, 2 million people in the United States are infected with drug-resistant bacteria. The annual toll is up to 100,000 deaths and health-care costs of more than $20 billion.

Oregon State University’s Jessina McGregor, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, would like to reduce these sobering numbers. As a national researcher in antibiotic stewardship, she studies whether prescribers are following best practices designed to slow down resistance and avoid exposing patients to possible side effects.

In 2019, McGregor and her collaborators found that antibiotics prescribed by dentists, who write 10% of all antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. as a preemptive strike against infection, are unnecessary 81% of the time. McGregor has also co-authored a Society for Healthcare Epidemiology white paper on antibiotic stewardship research that provides a road map for the most-needed areas of study.

“Antibiotics are frequently used across all healthcare xsettings, and much of the use is not needed,” she says. “But defining ‘appropriate antibiotic use’ is challenging without good data from well-designed studies. Our work aims to optimize care for individual patients and limit the spread of drug resistance.”

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.