Antibiotic Use Without a Prescription: A Multisite Survey of Patient, Health System, and Encounter Characteristics

Clin Infect Dis. 2023 Aug 22;77(4):510-517. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciad241.


Background: Using antibiotics without a prescription is potentially unsafe and may increase the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We evaluated the effect of patient, health system, and clinical encounter factors on intention to use antibiotics without a prescription that were (1) purchased in the United States, (2) obtained from friends or relatives, (3) purchased abroad, or (4) from any of these sources.

Methods: The survey was performed January 2020-June 2021 in 6 publicly funded primary care clinics and 2 private emergency departments in Texas, United States. Participants included adult patients visiting 1 of the clinical settings. Nonprescription use was defined as use of antibiotics without a prescription; intended use was professed intention for future nonprescription antibiotic use.

Results: Of 564 survey respondents (33% Black and 47% Hispanic or Latino), 246 (43.6%) reported prior use of antibiotics without a prescription, and 177 (31.4%) reported intent to use antibiotics without a prescription. If feeling sick, respondents endorsed that they would take antibiotics obtained from friends/relatives (22.3% of 564), purchased in the United States without a prescription (19.1%), or purchased abroad without a prescription (17.9%). Younger age, lack of health insurance, and a perceived high cost of doctor visits were predictors of intended use of nonprescription antibiotics from any of the sources. Other predictors of intended use were lack of transportation for medical appointments, language barrier to medical care, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and being interviewed in Spanish.

Conclusions: Patients without health insurance who report a financial barrier to care are likely to pursue more dangerous nonprescription antimicrobials. This is a harm of the US fragmented, expensive healthcare system that may drive increasing antimicrobial resistance and patient harm.

Keywords: antibiotic stewardship; antibiotics; non-prescription use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Prescriptions
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Infective Agents