Antibiotics As Loss Leaders?

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) strongly opposes the new marketing campaigns by Wal-Mart, Stop and Shop, Publix, and other large chains, to provide free prescribed antibiotics to customers. These offers are portrayed as cost-saving but they will actually lead to increased costs in the form of treatment failures because of antibiotic resistance. While the public's need for affordable healthcare is indisputable, providing free antibiotics is a misguided answer, which will inevitably result in unintended costly public health consequences.

Any large-scale program which focuses on providing antibiotics for free, will promote antibiotic misuse and consequent increases in resistant bacteria in our communities. This concern is heightened by the fact that the new antibiotic pipeline is nearly empty so that we need to be careful to preserve the power of existing antibiotics.


The Centers for Disease Control, APUA and others have documented that half the medically prescribed antibiotics used in this country are not needed and that this antibiotic overuse is already leading to loss of antibiotic effectiveness and treatment failures throughout the country. These new commercial marketing campaigns will make the situation even worse.

These campaigns denigrate the value of these therapeutics, discourage their proper stewardship, and imply that these drugs are a ready treatment for colds and flu. One ad offers free antibiotics while stating that, "with cold and flu season in full swing we want to do what we can to help keep you and your family feeling your best during the winter months."

This advice contradicts medical dogma, that cold and flu are caused by viruses not bacteria. Antibiotics treat bacteria not viruses. The campaigns will certainly lead patients to pressure physicians to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, which will now cost less than symptomatic relief medicines. While the antibiotics will still require a prescription, there is no control on refills and stockpiling, which will incur misuse and overuse of these drugs and resultant drug resistant infections.

Antibiotics are powerful life saving medicines for use in serious bacterial infections. The rationale for these commercial offers seem counter-productive since they are intended to serve health needs of patients but will mainly act to produce new and more costly ones.