The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia is to be applauded for changing the way pharmacists label the antibiotics they dispense to support best practice antimicrobial prescribing and use.
From this month, antibiotics dispensed by Australian pharmacies will be labelled with instructions that they be taken for a defined number of days according to the prescribers’ instructions and not simply until all the medicine is used, which was the previous advice to consumers.
This may seem like a minor change, but it is incredibly important for both optimising patient outcomes and our continuing fight against antimicrobial resistance.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally when germs such as bacteria and viruses, including those which cause illness, are exposed to treatments like antibiotics and antivirals. Even though antimicrobial resistance develops naturally, it is accelerated when microbes are exposed to more antimicrobial medicine than is absolutely necessary. When that occurs, resistance to current medicines increases and they can become less effective.
Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic other diseases continue to affect our lives. It is important to remember that antimicrobial resistance, especially antibiotic resistance, is one of the biggest public health issues we face.
The new antibiotic labelling guidelines reinforce the need for doctors to explain to patients how many days they should be taking the antibiotic for and that doctors should not include a repeat prescription by default.
In addition, pharmacists will confirm with patients as part of dispensing antibiotics that they understand for how long they should take their medicine and will make sure that any repeat prescription is clinically appropriate.
Patients may still find contrary advice, particularly in the Consumer Medicine Information leaflets which accompany antibiotics, encouraging them to take prescribed medicine until it is all used.
Consumer Medicines Information will eventually change but until it does, your doctor and pharmacist are the best source of advice about for how long you should take your medicine.
It is important to understand if you take more medicine than you need, it won’t improve your health and it increases antimicrobial resistance for the entire population.
This will mean that many people will have medicine left over after they have taken it for the prescribed number of days. Unused antibiotics should not be saved for a later date or given to anyone else, but returned to the pharmacist to be safely destroyed.
Unused antibiotics should not be thrown in the bin, which is a surefire way for them to find their way into the environment, further adding to antibiotic resistance.
Every individual action makes a difference in the fight to slow antibiotic resistance. The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has taken an important step with this change to antibiotic prescribing.
I encourage everyone to talk with their pharmacist about this new advice and work with them to ensure that these valuable medicines remain effective treatments for a long time yet.
The changes have been published by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia in the Australian Pharmaceutical Formulary and Handbook. For more information, visit www.psa.org.au.