Speed Reads


Study finds global use of last-resort drugs on the rise

Here's the good news: more people in poorer countries are getting lifesaving antibiotics. Now, the bad news: because of that, drug-resistant bacteria is on the rise.

A study published in The Lancet Infectious Disease looked at antibiotic consumption across the world in the 21st century, and found that the total doses of antibiotics sold in pharmacies and clinics rose 36 percent from 2000 to 2010, NPR reports. But because of that, antibiotics that are used after all others have failed are now in danger of becoming ineffective. Those drugs are often used to treat everything from MRSA to a gut pathogen called CRE that may kill up to half of those infected.

The study found that three-quarters of the increase in consumption happened in India, Russia, China, South Africa, and Brazil. India and China are now the two biggest consumers of antibiotics for human use, with the United States coming in third. Researchers cautioned that the estimates were only minimum values, because they were unable to determine when drugs were not taken properly by the patient, or if patients were misdiagnosed and prescribed the wrong antibiotics.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and lead author of the study, considers antibiotics a "natural resource," and warns that having to replace them will be costly. "As we run out, finding new ones will be hard and expensive," he said. "Penicillin costs pennies. Newer antibiotics may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars."