PROVIDENCE—The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is planning fresh rounds of healthcare provider education as part of a renewed effort to reduce the improper prescribing of antibiotics and to reduce the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The campaign was launched in the wake of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month that highlighted the urgent need for improvement in American prescription practices after finding that antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi have claimed the lives of more than 35 thousand people so far this year.

“Antibiotic resistance can affect any person, at any stage of life,” according to the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States. “Antibiotic resistance jeopardizes advancements in modern health care that we have come to rely on, such as joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer therapy.”

The report, which is the first of its kind since 2013, also found that more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occurred in the U.S. this year.

As such, RIDOH is seeking to reeducate healthcare workers and the public about the appropriate use of antibiotics. Any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and can lead to antibiotic resistance, and the state government issued a press release underscoring the fact that antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent public health threats facing the developed world today.

Importantly, antibiotic resistance does not mean that one’s body is becoming resistant to antibiotics but, rather, that bacteria has developed the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them. When bacteria become resistant to the point that antibiotics cannot fight them, the bacteria then multiply and can cause severe threats to public health. Some resistant bacteria can be hard or impossible to treat and can spread more easily to other people.

RIDOH will be sending targeted educational materials to the top 10 percent of antibiotic prescribers in Rhode Island to address the issue, and RIDOH’s Antimicrobial Stewardship and Environmental Cleaning (AMSEC) Task Force is also set to continue its partnership with the CDC to educate Rhode Islanders about how to be antibiotics aware and encourage the proper use of antibiotics. Public health officials throughout the country took similar measures to educate the public last week, in what was labeled Antibiotic Awareness Week.

“Improving the way we prescribe and take antibiotics can help keep us healthy now, help fight antibiotic resistance, and ensure that life-saving antibiotics will be available for the future,” said AMSEC Chair Kerry LaPlante. “Patients, healthcare providers and healthcare facility administrators all have a role to play in making Rhode Island antibiotics aware.”

In spite of persistent challenges, the CDC report also indicated that progress was being made in the fighting against resistant infections. Since the previous report in 2013, prevention efforts have reduced deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections by 18 percent overall and by nearly 30 percent in hospitals, and the AMSEC Task Force is now working with Rhode Island healthcare providers and facilities to improve infection prevention practices.

CDC and RIDOH advise patients and their families to use antibiotics only when necessary. This will further reduce antibiotic resistance and the spread of superbugs, as well as protect patients from side effects. The “Be Antibiotics Aware” initiative educates the public about when antibiotics are needed, when they are not, how to take antibiotics appropriately and the potential side effects of antibiotics.

“When someone takes time out of their day to go to the doctor, they want to walk out with a prescription that is going to make them feel better. But antibiotics are not always the answer,” said RI Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott. “In fact, they can sometimes make things even worse. By taking antibiotics when not appropriate, people put themselves at risk for serious side effects while also undermining our ability to use antibiotics as a life-saving tool for future generations.”

As part of the effort, both the CDC and RIDOH are encouraging patients and families to get the facts about antibiotics before use. Particularly, the public should be aware that antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green in color. Antibiotics will not work when they are not needed, but the side effects can still cause harm. Above all, residents are urged to always ask their doctor, nurse or pharmacist about alternatives to antibiotics, and to take them exactly as prescribed when they are needed.

In addition to the new educational efforts, RIDOH also helped promote “Drug Take Back Day” last month, as part of the department’s Antimicrobial Resistance Challenge commitment. The event was coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). The Drug Take Back Day event resulted in 4,778 pounds of unused or expired medications, including antibiotics and prescription painkillers, being properly disposed of at 55 locations across Rhode Island.

More information about antibiotics, their proper use and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be found at health.ri.gov/antibiotics and cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.

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