Do physicians, drug companies, governmental agencies, and/or consumers have any ethical or moral obligations to control antibiotic use?
Are we as a "pill popping" society contributing to the evolution of so called superbugs? Should we restrict how antibiotics are used and try to control the evolution of bacteria?
Do you actually think that the human race is in danger for a super epidemic of global proportions?
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I'm not enough of a scientist to answer the last part... As for the rest, I think the ethical and practical burden does and must always fall on the consumer. It is really impractical (and impossible in a free society) to have a physician or government official monitor whether a person takes their antibiotics.
I think the doctors have to emphasize the importance of taking all the pills prescribed so you don't leave the most reistant bacteria alive to make the "superbugs." But then it's up to the people to be responsible enough to take all of them.
Your question seems to address the the problem of physicians possibly over prescribing antibiotics and the mutation of germs that then become resistant to these antibiotics. A physician has both an ethical and a moral duty to provide the best care for his patient, and prescribing antibiotics certainly falls under the heading of patient care. If anyone other than a doctor determined if or when a patient received an antibiotic, then that person or agency would be practicing medicine without being qualified to do so. Patient care is the responsibility of the physician, and medical decisions must be left in his or her hands.
There has been a growing concern in the medical community about certain bacteria becoming resistant to many antibiotics, and as a result, most physicians now prescribe antibiotics with special care. As for the occurrence of a super epidemic, medical researchers work every day creating antibiotics to stay ahead of the bugs. I am more concerned with viral epidemics, since antibiotics do not affect viral infections.
Already there are many legal provision to prevent indiscriminate use of antibiotics. This does control improper use of antibiotics to considerable extent but does not eliminate it. In any case even proper use of antibiotics leads to development of new strains of infections resistant to existing antibiotics. However the threat of super epidemics of global proportions does not make antibiotics bad. Without these antibiotics the epidemics are likely to be worse because of our inability to fight even the existing varieties of infections.
In response to (4). What are these many legal provisions that prevent indiscrimitate use of antibiotics? I do not know of any restrictions (in the U.S) for doctors to not prescribe antibiotics to a patient, assuming the drugs have been cleared with the FDA. I know that many doctors are aware that wide use of antibiotics speed up bacteria's evolutionary response to those drugs. But the question remains that most private practice doctors who own their business tend to give the patient (customer) what they want. Antibiotics, or any pill, tends to make most patients feel better after a routine visit.
I think there is an ethical obligation to control overprescription of medicines of any kind, as this is happening in anti-depressants and sleep medication too. There is a great deal of incentive and pressure to increase distribution of certain drugs. Anti-biotics are often a knee jerk prescription to any infection. I believe there is an ethical obligation to address this more firmly with health care providers.
I can add that my children's pediatricians are highly against the use of antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary. Their philosophy is that if antibiotics are overused, then bacteria will eventually become resistant to them and then we will be in real trouble. I feel that they personally have moral obligations related to this. I do think that many doctors do overprescribe though.
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