This One Type of Medication Is Vastly Overprescribed, Study Says

We all have different ways of coping with sickness. While some among us prefer to…

We all have different ways of coping with sickness. While some among us prefer to ride things out until it’s clear medication is the only option, others have the doctor on speed dial and prefer a more proactive plan. If you happen to fall in the latter category, a new study bears a warning that may make a difference to your health: Researchers say one medication type in particular is vastly overprescribed. Read on to learn which medication is doled out without a proper diagnosis nearly half of the time, and how changing one thing about your next doctor’s visit could help you sidestep this problem.

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Western medicine has saved countless lives through targeted pharmaceutical treatment. However, some experts say that certain classes of medication are overprescribed, and that their widespread availability could put patients at risk.

For instance, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research looked at the 10 most frequently prescribed medication classes among American adults, and evaluated them for overprescription. They found that “opioids for chronic pain, proton pump inhibitors for indigestion, levothyroxine for subclinical hypothyroidism, and antidepressants for subsyndromal levels of depression” were just some of the most overprescribed drugs on the market.

However, there is one other drug type that stands out for being too readily given—and chances are you’ve taken it at least once when you shouldn’t have.

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Pills in the palm of a person's hand.
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According to a recent study conducted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, antibiotics are vastly overprescribed. The researchers behind the study analyzed over half a million prescriptions from 514 outpatient clinics, and found that 46 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions were given without an infection-related diagnosis.

While 17 percent were written without any diagnosis at all, leaving open the possibility of poor record keeping as an explanation for the error, 29 percent noted something other than an infection diagnosis, such as high blood pressure or annual visit. The research team observed that in many cases, antibiotics were given for viral infections, which antibiotics do nothing to improve.

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The study took note of where this overpresciption was taking place and found that there was no single source for the problem: general physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in a wide range of specialties were all guilty of giving antibiotics when they were not necessary.

“We found that nearly half the time, clinicians have either a bad reason for prescribing antibiotics, or don’t provide a reason at all,” said Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. “When you consider about 80 percent of antibiotics are prescribed on an outpatient basis, that’s a concern,” he added.

To further complicate matters, one in five prescriptions were written without any kind of in-person visit at all.

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Though it’s important to be actively involved in your medical care, it’s your doctor’s job to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan when you’re sick. All too often, patients requesting a particular medication despite being unsure of their own condition can lead to the prescription of unnecessary antibiotics, the research team says.

“Despite 40 years of randomized controlled trials showing antibiotics don’t help for most coughs and sinus infections, many people are convinced they will not get better without an antibiotic and specifically call the doctor requesting one,” said Linder. “At busy clinics, sadly the most efficient thing to do is just call in an antibiotic prescription. We need to dig into the data more, but we believe there is a lot of antibiotic prescribing for colds, the flu and non-specific symptoms such as just not feeling well, none of which are helped by antibiotics,” he added.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you’re taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.