An expert says it is imperative that clinicians emphasize the importance of use and dispose of these medications properly.
We have all been there - taking leftover antibiotics to save a second trip to the doctor.
However, a recent study has found that giving saved antibiotics to others - within and outside the family - fuels rising rates of antibiotic-resistant infections.
The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition.
Senior author Ruth Milanaik, said the study results show an "alarming" percentage of parents in a national sample report sharing or borrowing antibiotics, a practice called prescription diversion.
"This is dangerous not only for those given antibiotics that weren't prescribed for them, but for entire populations of people who some antibiotics may no longer help when the bacteria they target become resistant to them," said Dr. Milaniak of New York's Cohen Children's Medical Center.
For the study, an anonymous online questionnaire was distributed to a national sample of 496 parents though Amazon Mechanical Turk. Nearly half (48.2 percent) of the parents reported that they had kept leftover antibiotics rather than properly disposing them.
Of those, 73 percent subsequently diverted them to siblings, unrelated children, and unrelated adults--sometimes months after the antibiotic was originally prescribed--all without physician consultation. Parents also used the leftover antibiotics themselves.
Among other findings:
-The most common form of antibiotics diverted was liquids (80.4 percent of parents whose children were prescribed them) and drops (73.8 percent), compared to creams (69.7 percent) and tablets (55.6 percent).
-The dosage of antibiotic that was administered was typically the prescribed dosage, even though the recipient of the antibiotic had changed, or was estimated based on the age of the child.
-Overall, 16 percent of participants stated that they had given their child adult medications.
Dr. Milanaik said more effort and resources need to be invested in educating families about how antibiotics work, that they aren't necessary for all illnesses, and the medical risks of taking antibiotics without consulting a health provider.
"Although the discovery of antibiotics has revolutionized medicine, it is imperative that clinicians emphasize the importance of use and dispose of these medications properly to make sure they remain an effective tool against infectious diseases," Dr. Milanaik said.