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British Columbians saved almost $450 million fighting antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic Awareness Week draws attention to unnecessary use of antibiotics.
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​A program to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in the province between 2006 and 2014 saved British Columbians $449.7 million and decreased monthly antibiotic prescriptions by 14.5 per cent, according to a new analysis.

The program, called Do Bugs Need Drugs, was created in Alberta and brought to British Columbia in 2005. It included a public education campaign, outreach in schools, workplaces and the community as well collaboration with health care providers to raise awareness about the risks of antibiotic resistance and how to prevent it.  

“Unnecessary antibiotic use drives up rates of resistance in bacteria, making easily treatable infections much harder to manage,” said David Patrick, medical lead of antibiotic resistant organisms at the BCCDC. “Unnecessary use also causes many adverse effects in B.C.”

Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria. Over time and with widespread use, bacteria will evolve to become resistant and no longer respond to medicines. These bacteria, often referred to as superbugs, can spread quickly and may cause death in some patients.

 “We knew that the program was meeting its targets for reduction in antibiotic use and slowing the emergence of resistance,” said Abdullah Al Mamun, epidemiologist with the BCCDC. “We did not expect that the program would also save us a lot of money which can be used elsewhere in the health care system.” 

The Do Bugs Need Drugs program aimed to educate the public that antibiotics are not necessary and don’t work on infections caused by viruses like colds and flu. It also encouraged doctors and prescribers to use antibiotics that target the bacteria causing the infection rather than broad-spectrum antibiotics that wipe out both the good and bad bacteria in our bodies. 

The BCCDC presented a cost-benefit analysis of the Do Bugs Need Drugs program at a recent national meeting. The program is associated with savings of more than $70 for every dollar spent in its delivery.

To continue to build on this work, the BCCDC is identifying other health care professions to further reduce antibiotic use. This past fall, the BCCDC and BC Dental Association (BCDA) launched the “Say Naah” campaign to prevent the overuse of antibiotics for toothaches and dental procedures. Ads were splashed across the province’s transit system to encourage people to consult with their dentist before taking antibiotics. In addition to the public awareness campaign, the BCCDC and BCDA are also working directly with dentists to educate about prescribing practices. 

The research was presented at the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada’s 2018 annual conference in May.

Key facts about antibiotic resistance
  • In 2016, the World Health Organization declared that without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.
  • Over the last 30 years, no major types of antibiotics have been developed.
  • An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people die each year from antibiotic resistant infection in Canada.
antibiotic resistance
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