A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes the repercussions of antibiotic resistance: when drugs have declining, limited, or no effectiveness in combatting certain bacterial infections. In the United States, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) kills more than 19,000 annually—more than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and homicide combined. This policy brief offers an overview of antibiotic resistance, the debate around regulating antibiotic use in agriculture, and new developments in related research and policy initiatives.
Topics covered in this brief include:
- What’s the background? The more antibiotics are used, the more opportunities bacteria have to evolve to defeat them. The brief examines the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which produced many of the “superbugs” in the United States. The problem is not limited to humans: 80 percent of this country’s antibiotic sales are given to farm animals and poultry, to promote growth as well as treat illness. Nonetheless, the United States has been slow to pass any legislation limiting the agricultural use of antibiotics.
- What’s the policy and the debate? The brief outlines efforts taken by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal entities to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria and promote the development of new antibiotics. As the brief also points out, powerful meat industry stakeholders have opposed attempts to regulate the use of antibiotics in animal feed—although change may be in the wind.
- What’s next? To provide incentives for drug companies, the Obama administration’s Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now Act of 2011 added a five-year extension to the exclusivity period of new antibiotics. The White House’s recently released National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria was accompanied by a proposed funding increase for the next fiscal year. At the same time, new antibiotics are being developed in the research lab—although, as the brief notes, the failure rate for antibiotics moving all the way from early discovery to actual drug approval is 97 percent.
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