“It started out with one a day, then it went to two per day”. These are the words of Neville Basson, who after years of taking an anti-inflammatory daily suffered what felt like a heart attack on the side of the road.
Antibiotic addiction and codeine dependencies are on the increase worldwide with many claiming to be ‘too busy’ to get sick, so they bully their physicians into prescribing antibiotics because it heals you quickly and your sleep is also much better.
The consequence of this is that the body builds up a resistance to the antibiotics and patients demand a higher dosage on antibiotics for it to be effective.
Dr Theo Ben Kandetu, a Namibian physician addresses this phenomenon by stating that because of the overuse of antibiotics, certain bacteria have become resistant to even the more powerful antibiotics available.
In addition to resistance, overusing or abusing antibiotics can lead to other problems as well. While investigating the side effects of antibiotics and how bacteria develop resistance to them, researchers from MIT and Harvard University found that medicines (particularly antibiotics) can work against the body, weakening the immune system’s ability to fight off bugs.
Antibiotics don’t create a physiological dependence by interfering with the functioning of your nervous system.
They are not physically or psychologically addictive in the conventional sense, although they can cause rebound infections or physical, psychological or neurological problems during use or even discontinuation. This is so because they interfere with the natural flora of your body, in most cases especially the gut.
For Neville, this rings true as he recounts his visit to Dr Katjitae who wondered whether he was a heavy drinker when he looked at his stomach lining. “It was red, and even had holes in it. I had a muscle tear at the time after years of body building and to keep the pain under control, I used Norflex on a daily basis. After a while, one Norflex was not sufficient so I took two until my body gave in. And that’s when I stopped.”
It is noteworthy that people addicted to other substances may use antibiotics at a higher rate simply due to the factors involved in drug use, especially those that may involve unsanitary conditions.
This is not to be understood as addicted people also becoming addicted to antibiotics but rather it is a result of their physical health and not their mental health.
Dr Kandetu continues “the fault lies with the GP’s (general practitioners) in private healthcare. A patient comes in with a fever, a cough or chest pain and while there is no need for an antibiotic, GP’s prescribe these as if they are lollipops.
Antibiotics are limited in their treatment and it’s worth keeping in mind that infections can have multiple causes such as they could be fungal, bacterial or viral.
Therefore adherence to the WHO “Pain ladder”, or analgesic ladder is highly recommended.
This protocol was created by the World Health Organization and basically it guides medical professionals as to how to treat pain by starting out with basics, then you move to Step 2 where you treat more severe pain and finally Step 3 which is a combination of Step 1 and 2 plus more strong opioids such as morphine, until the patient is free of pain.”
It is estimated that every year, doctors worldwide write 100 million antibiotic prescriptions for these very conditions that they cannot treat, in part because many patients believe erroneously that antibiotics are effective treatment for viral infections.
Everybody wants to feel better when they are sick and feeling awful and for some reason trust in the body’s ability to heal itself has waned off and most everyone believes that an antibiotic is the only possible cure that will help.
Public health campaigns are an important tool to make more people aware that the overuse of antibiotics gives rise to bacteria that mutates its defences and gets stronger than even the toughest of medicines.
More than resistance, the high usage of antibiotics in the first 6 months of an infants’ life has led to higher incidences of diseases like eczema, asthma and allergic hypersensitivity.
In the same vein about 140 000 people have serious adverse reactions to antibiotics every year but because of the pressure on doctors to see many patients and with patients being able to visit different doctors until they get what they want, slowing prescription rates is not as easy as it sounds.
“Patients demand antibiotics. It takes 1 minute to write a prescription while it takes up to 20 minutes to not write it and to explain to the patient why” said Dr Smith a local practitioner.”
This demand and the availability of so many medical professionals makes misuse hard to track and even harder to control.