Pharmacies offering no-cost antibiotics should promote responsible use, CDC says

CDC last week sent out letters to several chain pharmacies that offer no-cost prescription antibiotics to low-income consumers urging them to promote responsible use of antibiotics, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the agency is concerned that the no-cost drugs could promote the wrong message and might worsen the problem of drug resistance.

Pharmacies that are offering no-cost antibiotics to low-income consumers include Giant Food Stores, Meijer, Publix, ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Wegmans Food Markets. According to the Times, "The generic antibiotics included in the free programs are relatively inexpensive compared to other drugs, in part because they typically are used for limited periods and are not refilled." The Times reports that pharmacies have adopted the programs "to promote customer loyalty and compete for the business of major retailers."

Lauri Hicks, medical director for CDC's Get Smart Program, said, "If a patient believes that they can get an antibiotic quite easily or for free, then it may increase the pressure on health care providers to prescribe it" (Parker-Pope, New York Times, 3/5). Anne Gershon, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said, "We don't want to give the public the idea that we can just use (antibiotics) whenever we want. Free drugs can give that impression" (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/4). She said, "If you give antibiotics away, it sort of implies that we should use them rather freely," adding, "Giving away antibiotics could lead to stockpiling of drugs. We need to control antibiotic use very carefully, because more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics."

Last year, CDC sent similar letters to major retailers that were promoting low-cost drug programs, urging them to educate customers about drug resistance (New York Times, 3/5).

Antibiotics Not for Flu, CDC Warns

The new round of CDC warnings come as some pharmacies offering no-cost antibiotics have linked the offers to the cold and flu season, neither of which should be treated with antibiotics. Neil Fishman, chair of an antimicrobial resistance work group for IDSA and an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "Most of the infections during cold and flu season ... are due to viruses and not the result of bacteria, so antibiotics don't work," adding, "This is exactly the time we don't want to encourage antibiotic use" (New York Times, 3/5).

Hicks said, "A number of the chains were advertising free antibiotics as a solution to cold and flu season. Of course we know antibiotics don't work for colds and flu," adding, "Perpetuating that idea is not helpful. We have been trying to combat that myth and they are not helping with those words" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/4). IDSA said the pharmacies would be providing a more important public service if they offered no-cost flu shots (New York Times, 3/5).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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