Scrap 'unwinnable' drugs war and divert funds into curbing global antibiotic misuse

Governments around the world should stop squandering resources fighting an "unwinnable war" against illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Instead, they should use the cash to curb antibiotic misuse, which poses a far more serious threat to human health, claims a leading ethicist in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Dr Jonny Anomaly, of Duke University, Durham in North Carolina, USA, says that concerted is needed to tackle the excessive and casual prescribing of antibiotics, which has led to a worrying rise in resistance to these medicines.

"Government action is both more appropriate and more likely to be effective in regulating antibiotics than it is in criminalising narcotics," he writes.

Dr Anomaly says the arguments put forward for continuing to plough resources into the war on , such as the need to curb the related violence and social harms, should, of course, be taken seriously.

But he contends that "most of the violence and crime associated with narcotics is caused by laws that prohibit use, rather than drug use itself." And the argument that increase violent tendencies is not based on strong evidence, he says.

He accepts that a drug habit takes its toll on friends and family, but argues that this does not justify treating this behaviour as a crime.

And while supporters of tough action on illegal drugs fear that the absence of harsh penalties will simply make it easier to get hold of them, Dr Anomaly points to the evidence in Portugal—the only country that has decriminalised recreational drug use.

This "suggests that consumption has not significantly increased for most drugs, and has actually declined for some…greater accessibility does not necessarily lead to more drug use by either adults or children," he writes.

At the very least antibiotic have the power to harm others and make illness more costly to treat, and they can often kill, he warns.

"This feature gives antimicrobial drugs a fundamentally different moral status from recreational drugs, and it suggests that current policy priorities are based on moral confusion, scientific ignorance, or both," he suggests.

He puts forward several possible ways of tackling antibiotic resistance.

These include phasing out the use of these drugs in farming, along with factory farming; cash incentives for pharmaceutical companies to conserve existing drugs; banning over the counter sales of antibiotics in developing nations; and global surveillance of resistant bacteria, spearheaded by the world's wealthy nations.

In addition to this, a flat user fee should be levied on courses of antibiotics, the monies from which could be used to fund antibiotic research, he suggests.

"A user fee would not be a panacea. But it could be a crucial part of a multidimensional approach to the problem of resistance. User fees are especially attractive because of their fairness and simplicity," he says.

More information: Collective action and individual choice: rethinking how we regulate narcotics and antibiotics, Online First, doi: 10.1136/medethics-2012-101160

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Chinese ministry, WHO warn of antibiotic overuse

Apr 07, 2011

(AP) -- Drug-resistant forms of diseases such as tuberculosis are on the rise in China because of the overuse of antibiotics and urgent action is needed to reverse the problem, the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization ...

Study hints at antibiotic overuse in home-care patients

Jun 15, 2011

A study of Canadian home-care patients suggests doctors may be overprescribing antibiotics for patients receiving ongoing medical care at home. The study, published in the June issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the jo ...

Antibiotic resistance lasts up to a year

May 18, 2010

Patients prescribed antibiotics in primary care may develop a resistance that lasts up to 12 months, according to research published in the British Medical Journal today.

Recommended for you

Two US states order tough Ebola quarantine rules

6 hours ago

New York and New Jersey on Friday ordered a mandatory quarantine for medics who treated victims of Ebola in West Africa, after the deadly virus spread to America's largest city.

NY and NJ say they will require Ebola quarantines

Oct 24, 2014

The governors of New Jersey and New York on Friday ordered a mandatory, 21-day quarantine for all doctors and other arriving travelers who have had contact with Ebola victims in West Africa.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

alfie_null
not rated yet Feb 21, 2013
What strategies does he suggest for neutralizing the powerful economic interests who will either oppose or subvert many of his proposed actions.
Regarding user fees and fairness - I don't see it. It would discourage poor people from seeking medication. If you want doctors to be more cautious about prescribing, providing better diagnostic tools (a carrot) would be better than taxes and surcharges (the stick).