Obama Administration Unveils Plan to Battle Antibiotic Resistance.

Obama Administration Unveils Plan to Battle Antibiotic Resistance.

by Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise and the Obama Administration has put together a plan to combat the issue. Major newspapers, wire services, and online healthcare-related outlets published coverage of the news conference held late last week. In a news conference, the President’s chief science advisor announced plans to improve antibiotics through new drug development; reining in antibiotic misuse and developing diagnostic testing to help doctors and veterinarians decide when antibiotics are truly needed.

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy sees antibiotic resistance as a potential threat to not only the nation but the world. “The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria represents a serious domestic and international challenge to human and animal health, national security and the economy” USA Today (9/19, Weintraub).

According to Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, combating antibiotic resistance is vital to maintaining our current standards of medical care. “Antibiotic resistance is linked to at least 23,000 death and two million illnesses each year.” Frieden also notes that in addition to treating bacterial infections, antibiotics also help with complications arising from conditions like cancer, arthritis and asthma. “If we lose the ability to treat these, we will undermine much of our current medical care system.”

Researchers have been warning for years that antibiotics are losing their strength due to overuse. The New York Times (9/19, A16, Tavernise, Subscription Publication) reports that if this trend of overuse is not “halted, we could return to the time before antibiotics, when it was common for people to die from ordinary infections and for children not to survive strep throat.” According to Holdren, the new strategy – established by an executive order signed by the President – is intended to jolt the federal government into action to begin aggressively addressing a health crisis experts have been slow to recognize.

The President is mobilizing a special task force comprised of key federal agencies. As reported in The Los Angeles Times (9/19, Morin) “Science Now” blog, the task force, co-chaired by the secretaries of Defense, Agriculture and Health and Human Services, “will oversee public, private and academic efforts to minimize the spread of superbugs by promoting the proper use of antibiotics; the acceleration of scientific research into new antibacterial drugs and novel therapies; and the creation of new diagnostic technologies that will identify drug-resistant bacteria.” In addition, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority are working in conjunction with the White House to co-sponsor a contestant for the development of diagnostic testing that will rapidly identify superbugs. On the line is a $20 million prize.

The administration’s national strategy with a five-year plan calls for the new presidential advisory council to make special recommendations to the White House by February 2015. It is a strategy with a targeted goal of reducing the overall incidences of Clostridium difficile, also known as C-diff, by 50 percent, and cutting the number of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections by 2020 in half. Additionally, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a 78-page document “outlining practical steps the government can take to both track resistant germs and develop novel antibiotics to treat bacterial infections” as reported in the Washington Post (9/19, Nutt).

Critics had hoped the White House would go one step further and address the use of antibiotics in animals, particularly those used for meat. The AP (9/19, Jalonick) reported that the executive order directs the Food and Drug Administration to “to continue taking steps to eliminate agricultural use of medically important antibiotics for growth-promotion purposes.”

For additional information on the subject, including information pertaining to the use Additional coverage of the issue can be found at the Wall Street Journal (9/19, A5, Tracy, Burton, Subscription Publication),  Reuters (9/19, Huffstutter), the NBC News (9/19, Fox) website, CNN (9/19, Young), CNBC (9/19, Mangan), The Hill (9/19, Goad), Congressional Quarterly (9/19, Gustin, Subscription Publication),Modern Healthcare (9/19, Johnson, Subscription Publication), Newsday (9/19, Ricks), and TIME (9/19, Park)

Dr. Steven Lipsky

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