Nonprescription Antimicrobial Use in a Primary Care Population in the United States

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2016 Aug 22;60(9):5527-32. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00528-16. Print 2016 Sep.


Community antimicrobial resistance rates are high in communities with frequent use of nonprescription antibiotics. Studies addressing nonprescription antibiotic use in the United States have been restricted to Latin American immigrants. We estimated the prevalence of nonprescription antibiotic use in the previous 12 months as well as intended use (intention to use antibiotics without a prescription) and storage of antibiotics and examined patient characteristics associated with nonprescription use in a random sample of adults. We selected private and public primary care clinics that serve ethnically and socioeconomically diverse patients. Within the clinics, we used race/ethnicity-stratified systematic random sampling to choose a random sample of primary care patients. We used a self-administered standardized questionnaire on antibiotic use. Multivariate regression analysis was used to identify independent predictors of nonprescription use. The response rate was 94%. Of 400 respondents, 20 (5%) reported nonprescription use of systemic antibiotics in the last 12 months, 102 (25.4%) reported intended use, and 57 (14.2%) stored antibiotics at home. These rates were similar across race/ethnicity groups. Sources of antibiotics used without prescriptions or stored for future use were stores or pharmacies in the United States, "leftover" antibiotics from previous prescriptions, antibiotics obtained abroad, or antibiotics obtained from a relative or friend. Respiratory symptoms were common reasons for the use of nonprescription antibiotics. In multivariate analyses, public clinic patients, those with less education, and younger patients were more likely to endorse intended use. The problem of nonprescription use is not confined to Latino communities. Community antimicrobial stewardship must include a focus on nonprescription antibiotics.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Nonprescription Drugs

Grants and funding

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency. It was supported in part by the Houston VA HSR&D Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (CIN 13–413).