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Free Antibiotics - And A Warning, Too

Posted Jan 12th, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

Several supermarkets and pharmacies across the country have announced they will be offering their customers free antibiotics with a doctor’s prescription.  Sounds like a great idea!

And it is… with a warning.

The warning is one that can affect your health if you overuse antibiotics.  Doctors and researchers have discovered in the past few years that the overuse of antibiotics has led to the superbugs that infect people today.  You may have heard the names of those superbugs:  MRSA (Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and C. Diff. (Clostridium difficile) plus other bacteria which have developed to a point where antibiotics don’t kill them anymore.  They are examples of Darwin at its worst.  A drug is developed to kill the bacteria, then the bacteria grows stronger than the drug, rendering the drug useless.

How does that happen?  It started years ago, when antibiotics were new and inexpensive to develop and produce.  We would get sick, go to the doctor, the doctor would write us a prescription for every little sniffle, and we’d begin taking the antibiotic drug, or giving it to our sick children, of course.  Ear aches, sore throats, bad coughs, even cuts and rashes – no matter whether it was a bacterial infection or not, it was quick and easy to get a prescription.

However!  How many times were we guilty of not finishing the entire bottle of pills, or how many times did we not follow the directions on the bottle?  Yes, we may have felt better, but when we didn’t finish the entire prescription (as we were told to do!), then we only partially killed the bacteria. That gave the bacteria the opportunity to regain its strength, and get even stronger, and develop into a new strain – one that would be even more problematic for the next person who caught it.

Yes, we may have gotten over whatever ailed us, even when we didn’t finish taking the entire prescription.  But experts tell us that in most cases, we could have gotten better on our own, without the antibiotic, had we been patient enough to let it run its course.

So where does that leave us today?

It means we need to leave it to the experts – our doctors – about whether we should be taking an antibiotic.  If you’re sick enough that you think you need help, then by all means, get yourself to the doctor’s office.  But if your doctor suggests you wait awhile?  Then let that be that.  Don’t push for an antibiotic.

And if your doctor does prescribe one for you?  Then by all means, check this list to see if your local supermarket or pharmacy is offering free antibiotics.

And if your supermarket or pharmacy is not on the list, then be sure to check here to see if you qualify for free or low cost drugs from one of its sources.


About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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