Get Smart Colorado, based at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, this week launched a public "call to action" campaign to educate the public about appropriate use and proper disposal of antibiotics to prevent antibiotic resistance.
The campaign consists of English and Spanish information cards containing guidance about the proper use and disposal of antibiotics that are being displayed throughout the month of October at Colorado Safeway pharmacy counters. Radio public service announcements will run through November.
The campaign emphasises the importance of finishing all antibiotics when they are prescribed for treating bacterial infections, not using antibiotics to treat viral infections, and not using expired medications. "Using antibiotics improperly can make bacteria resistant to that medication. Infections caused by resistant bacteria can be harder to treat because the usual antibiotics cannot kill the bacteria," said Kelly Kast, coordinator of the Get Smart Colorado program.
"We want to encourage everyone to do something to fight antibiotic resistance, and properly disposing of any unused antibiotics is a good first step," she said.
Joe Schieffelin, Solid and Hazardous Waste Program manager for the Department of Public Health and Environment, advised, "The best approach is to mix unwanted medicine with kitty litter or coffee grounds and dispose of it in your household trash. Do not flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet or pour down the drain," he said.
State health officials said local wastewater treatment plants do not remove most of the chemicals and compounds in medications. So drugs that get flushed down a drain may be released into rivers and streams.
Another effective approach for disposing of antibiotics recommended by Boulder County Public Health is to keep pills in their original containers and fill the container with household glue. Then remove the label containing personal information and place the container in the trash once the glue has dried.
Government and health care officials have begun discussing pharmaceutical "take back" programs that would allow consumers to return unwanted medicine for safe disposal.
One such "take back" program was held this month at Boulder Foothills Hospital on Saturday 11 October. "Individuals can drop off prescriptions or over-the-counter medications in pill or liquid form, patches and inhalers and have them disposed of free of charge," said Bill Hayes, an engineer at Boulder County Public Health who directed the program.
Another key part of the campaign has to do with the proper use of antibiotics in treating infections. Kast said that these important medications, while critical in treating bacterial infections, are not effective for the vast majority of viral infections, such as viral sore throats and coughs, bronchitis, sinusitis, runny noses and the regular cold or flu. Yet, tens of millions of antibiotics are prescribed for viral infections.
Survey data suggest that there are opportunities for doctors and other health care professionals to discuss problems with overusing antibiotics with their patients. So, during the campaign, Get Smart Colorado will continue to work to emphasise wise antibiotic use with physicians, pharmacists, nurses and physician assistants among others.
"Participation with the campaign will improve communication with patients about this important health concern," said Kast.
(Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: October 2008)