South Nassau Truth In Medicine Poll: Improper Use of Antibiotics Reported Among Some Area Residents

Attitudes Differ Based on Gender, Race & Age

Posted: Apr. 4, 2017

Some area residents say they pressure their doctors for antibiotics they don’t need, fail to finish antibiotics as they are prescribed and improperly dispose of leftover antibiotics, posing a potential threat to local water supplies, according to a new poll of New York City and Long Island residents.

Use and misuse of antibiotics also varied significantly by age, gender and racial lines, the South Nassau Truth in Medicine poll of 600 metro area residents found.

“The South Nassau poll results reinforce what those in the medical community already know: there is a tremendous amount of antibiotic use that is inappropriate, dangerous and harmful to you and to society,” said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, South Nassau’s Department of Medicine Chair and Hospital Epidemiologist who is also a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America.

The poll results show:

  • Nearly one third of area residents fail to finish antibiotics prescribed to them, leaving them at risk of reinfection or recurrence of their illness.
  • Some 12 percent of respondents admitted to pressuring their physicians for an antibiotic even after their doctors told them they didn’t need one.
  • 10 percent reported using an antibiotic prescribed for someone else or offering their antibiotic to a family member or friend who wasn’t feeling well.
  • Nearly a quarter of residents said they simply flush unused antibiotics down the toilet, while 44 percent throw them in the trash. Twenty percent of respondents reported having unfinished antibiotics in their homes.  

“There are already potentially deadly infections we can’t treat because of overuse of antibiotics,” added Dr. Adhi Sharma, South Nassau’s Chief Medical Officer. “We need to stop overprescribing of antibiotics now before they all become useless. And we have to better educate patients to change the current mindset that a pill will solve everything.”

Patients who take antibiotics they don’t need can kill off “good” protective bacteria in their guts that ward off disease, sometimes causing them to develop C. difficile, a very severe life threatening infection. “The poll results indicate we have more work to do to educate patients and physicians about overuse of antibiotics,” said Dr. Glatt.

Overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics is a major public health concern in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making it more difficult for physicians to easily treat many infections. Research suggests improper use of antibiotics has led to the development of so-called ‘super bugs’ that are resistant to many and sometimes all of the existing antibiotics and are highly lethal.
 
Nearly half of poll respondents were unaware that overuse of antibiotics can lead to the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs. “Many patients don’t realize that their behavior with regard to overusing antibiotics can actually contribute to a rise of drug-resistant superbugs,” Glatt said. “Life threatening drug resistance problems are very real.”

The No. 1 inappropriate use of antibiotics involves an upper respiratory illness, said Dr. Glatt. In those cases, 95 percent of the time an antibiotic is not the proper course of treatment, he said.
 
The South Nassau poll, which tests respondents’ knowledge on key public health topics, found a wide variation of attitudes about antibiotics that at times broke down along gender, age and racial lines. For instance:

  • Whites were more likely to finish their prescriptions with 74 percent saying they always do so, compared to 57% of Hispanics and 65% of black respondents who stated they finished their antibiotics.
  • Women were more compliant with completing their antibiotic regimen compared to men.
  • Older adults, age 65 and above, were the most likely to finish their course of antibiotic treatment with 78% indicating they finish their antibiotic prescriptions.
  • Men under age 50 were most likely to keep unfinished antibiotics in their home with almost one-quarter holding on to old prescriptions. By contrast, women age 50 and over are the least likely to have unfinished antibiotics on hand.

The overwhelming majority of those responding in the poll – more than 75 percent – said they are aware that specific antibiotics treat specific ailments, but even so, one in 10 area adults have either taken an antibiotic that was prescribed for someone else or offered an antibiotic to a family member or friend who wasn’t feeling well.

“I strongly encourage people to stop saving medication for later use and not to share medication that is prescribed to them with others,” said Dr. Sharma.

The South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll was conducted via both landlines and cell phones from February 26-March 1 with 600 adults in New York City and on Long Island. The poll was conducted as part of the hospital’s mission of improving education around critical public health issues. The poll was conducted by a nationally recognized, independent polling firm, LJR Custom Strategies, which has offices in Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA. LJR has conducted more than 2,000 studies for a broad spectrum of health care, business, education, cultural, and political clients in almost every state in the country and around the world.

“The South Nassau ‘Truth in Medicine’ Poll is meant to shine a light on public health issues that deserve more attention,” said Richard J. Murphy, South Nassau’s President & CEO. “Clearly, the use and abuse of antibiotics is a great public health concern where we could all benefit from more education. Our goal is to help people stay healthy and out of the hospital.”

“It is a serious concern that a significant number of adults in our area don’t understand the importance of finishing their prescriptions and disposing of unused antibiotics and other prescriptions properly,” said Dr. Glatt. “Almost one-third of adults in our area do not always finish their course of antibiotics; and when they are not finished, they are kept at home where they potentially can be shared improperly with friends and family. There is a clear need for more education about antibiotic use, overuse, and disposal,” Glatt said.

Almost half of the respondents said they typically throw leftover antibiotics away in the trash, but 24% flush them down the toilet, and 17% dispose of them in some other way. Antibiotics that make their way into the local water supply can potentially contribute to antibiotic resistance, as has been clearly demonstrated in the animal husbandry industry, according to Dr. Glatt.

The ultimate goal of the Truth in Medicine Poll is to educate the public about health issues so they can take better care of themselves and seek out appropriate medical care when needed.

“Antibiotic resistance remains a major global concern and must be better addressed through public education and other measures, such as the antimicrobial stewardship programs we have at South Nassau,” said Dr. Glatt.

South Nassau has driven down infection rates in part through tighter controls on the use of antibiotics in the hospital and better education of physicians, staff and patients concerning their proper use.
 
“Overall, it is important that patients trust their doctors,” said Dr. Sharma. “Antibiotics are not needed to cure every ailment and patients should not push for an antibiotic when they are not necessary. Physicians also need to resist giving in to requests from patients for antibiotics just to make them happy.”

Designated a Magnet® hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), South Nassau® Communities Hospital is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 455 beds, more than 900 physicians and 3,500 employees.  The hospital is an acute-care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health and emergency services.  South Nassau operates the only Trauma Center on the South Shore of Nassau County as well as Long Island’s only free-standing, 9-1-1 receiving Emergency Department in Long Beach.

In addition to its extensive outpatient specialty centers, South Nassau provides emergency and elective angioplasty, and is the only hospital on Long Island with the Novalis Tx™ and Gamma Knife® radiosurgery technologies.  South Nassau is a designated Stroke Center by the New York State Department of Health and Comprehensive Community Cancer Center by the American College of Surgeons and is an accredited center of the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Association and Quality Improvement Program.
 
The hospital has been awarded the Joint Commission’s gold seal of approval as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures, including heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care; and disease-specific care for hip and joint replacement, wound care and end-stage renal disease. For more information, visit www.southnassau.org.