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For Immediate Release: May 28, 1998

For more information:

"Stop Squandering Antibiotics"

-- Scientists Seek Reforms --

The "miracle" may be over. The widespread overuse of antibiotics -- by doctors and farmers -- has led to the development of new "superbugs" that are resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, and many other "miracle" drugs. And that could have deadly consequences, according to a 27-page report released this morning by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

"We are losing our last line of defense against bacteria," said Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of CSPI.  "The government should be leading the fight to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics. Yet for 20 years, it has done almost nothing."

Among the report's recommendations:

the Food and Drug Administration should not allow penicillin, tetracycline, and certain other antibiotics to be given to animals to stimulate growth,
federal and state governments should require health insurance to cover the costs of strep tests and other cultures that doctors could use to avoid unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics, and
the federal government should direct nursing homes and hospitals to increase the use of the pneumonia vaccine to prevent diseases that would require the use of antibiotics.

CSPI, Public Citizen Health Research Group, more than fifty medical experts and eleven health groups today also launched a coalition, the Campaign to Preserve the Effectiveness of Antibiotics, and recommended a comprehensive approach for stopping inappropriate uses of antibiotics.

Members of the new coalition warned that the overuse of antibiotics allows bacteria that have developed mechanisms to evade the antibiotics to proliferate. This "antibiotic resistance" is outpacing the development of new antibiotics, which leaves us potentially defenseless against resistant strains.

"Scientists' longstanding warnings about the overuse of antibiotics by physicians and farmers largely have been ignored," said Dr. Richard Novick, professor of microbiology and medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. "Recent evidence has borne out those warnings, as many bacterial infections are more difficult to treat, and foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella are increasingly resistant."

"Doctors all too often prescribe antibiotics inappropriately for colds and flu, against which antibiotics are not effective," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, executive director of Public Citizen Health Research Group. "The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year one-third of outpatient antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately and unnecessarily."

Even the newest, most powerful antibiotics are overused. A recent study by the Health Care Financing Administration showed that 63 percent of prescriptions for vancomycin, the last line of defense against resistant hospital-acquired staph infections, were inappropriate. Recently, the first cases of vancomycin-resistant staph occurred in the U.S. More are likely to follow.

Antibiotics also are used heavily and inappropriately on the farm, the CSPI report charged. More than 40 percent of all antibiotics are used in agriculture, mostly for promoting growth in livestock. Some cases of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella food poisoning have been linked to farm use of antibiotics.

"The United States and Canada are the only developed countries that permit the use of medically important antibiotics for promoting growth in animals," said Patricia Lieberman, Ph.D., CSPI staff scientist. "Most countries have banned those uses, without sacrificing animal health or increasing consumers' costs."

Among those scientists supporting the Campaign to Preserve the Effectiveness of Antibiotics are Robert Baltimore, M.D., professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Yale University; Stanley Falkow, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University; and Joyce Lashof, M.D., professor emerita of public health at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, American Medical Women=s Association, American Nurses Association, and other health and consumer organizations also support the campaign.

Last fall, the World Health Organization called for an end to the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals, a position supported by the CDC. Additionally, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have developed practice guidelines to prevent unnecessary uses of antibiotics in children.

CSPI's report, Protecting the Crown Jewels of Medicine: A strategic plan to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance, provides a detailed plan for government action. Additional recommendations to prevent antibiotic resistance include:

Congress should provide funding for research on antibiotic resistance, for surveillance programs to track antibiotic resistance, and for education programs about judicious antibiotic use for farmers, health professionals, and the public.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should include in its report, Healthy People 2010, national goals for decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use and reducing resistance.
The FDA should repeal approval of fluoroquinolone antibiotics for poultry and only should allow fluoroquinolone approvals if the manufacturers can prove that the proposed uses would not reduce the antibiotics' effectiveness in human medicine.

"The government must act now," said Lieberman, "or else we may enter an era when antibiotics are no longer effective against diseases that used to be easily cured.  Without such reforms, the crown jewels of modern medicine will turn to dust."

CSPI, a nonprofit health-advocacy organization, was founded in 1971. CSPI is supported largely by the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. The organization is well known for obtaining nutrition labeling on all packaged foods and for its nutritional studies of restaurant foods.

More information is available on CSPI's home page

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