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Healthcare Insights

What were the most prescribed antibiotics of 2023?

Understanding prescription trends is crucial for navigating the healthcare landscape, especially for life science companies. By analyzing this data, businesses can make informed strategic decisions across various critical areas. This includes product development, go-to-market, and medical affairs, ultimately driving commercial growth. In this Healthcare Insight, we delve into the top antibiotics prescribed in 2023.

How many antibiotics are prescribed each year?

According to the CDC, healthcare providers prescribed 236.4 million antibiotic prescriptions in 2022. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners prescribed the most antibiotics (84.4 million), followed by primary care physicians (70 million) and dentists (25 million). Using data from the Definitive Healthcare Atlas Prescription Claims dataset, we’ve ranked the top 10 most prescribed and dispensed antibiotics in 2023.

Top 10 most prescribed outpatient antibiotics

RankAntibiotic drug name % of antibiotic prescriptions dispensed in 2023 Explore dataset
2Amoxicillin and clavulanate potassium13.6%Explore
5Sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim6.1%Explore
8Clindamycin hydrochloride3.3%Explore
9Clindamycin phosphate2.8%Explore

Fig. 1 Data is from the Definitive Healthcare Atlas Prescription Claims dataset for calendar year 2023. Claims data is sourced from multiple medical clearinghouses in the United States and is updated monthly. Data accessed February 2023.

What were the most common outpatient antibiotics prescribed in 2022?

The most common antibiotic in 2023 was amoxicillin, accounting for 24% of prescribed and dispensed antibiotics. Amoxicillin is used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, certain skin conditions, and kidney and blood infections. This antibiotic belongs to the penicillin group of medications.

Amoxicillin and clavulanate potassium, a combination antibiotic, was the second-most common antibiotic prescription, accounting for 13.6% of prescribed and dispensed antibiotics in 2023. Clavulanate potassium helps prevent certain bacteria from becoming resistant to amoxicillin. Combining it with amoxicillin helps the amoxicillin to remain active for a longer period.

The third-most common antibiotic was azithromycin, which accounted for 11.6% of prescribed and dispensed antibiotics in 2023. Azithromycin belongs to the macrolides group of antibiotics and is often used to treat sexually transmitted infections, certain respiratory infections, and skin conditions like acne. Providers also often prescribe this antibiotic to patients who are allergic to penicillin.

For more information about antibiotics, check out the CDC guide on antibiotic classes.

Understanding antibiotic data and which antibiotics are dominant in the market is an important consideration prior to beginning the research and development process. Knowing which drugs are being prescribed more than others can help to guide a life sciences organization's commercial strategy.

The challenge of antibiotic resistance

While antibiotics are a vital tool in modern medicine, their effectiveness is facing a growing challenge: antibiotic resistance. This phenomenon occurs when bacteria evolve mechanisms to resist the drugs designed to kill them, rendering the antibiotics less effective or even ineffective in treating infections. Several factors contribute to antibiotic resistance, including:

  • Overuse and misuse of antibiotics: Overprescribing antibiotics for conditions they don't treat, such as viral infections, or not completing the full course of antibiotics, can select for resistant bacteria.
  • Inadequate access to clean water and sanitation: In areas with poor hygiene practices, bacteria have more opportunities to spread and evolve resistance.
  • The use of antibiotics in agriculture: The routine use of antibiotics in livestock farming can contribute to the development of resistant bacteria in animals, which can then spread to humans through the food chain.

The consequences of widespread antibiotic resistance can be significant:

  • Increased treatment complexity: Treating common infections may become more difficult, requiring longer treatment times, alternative medications with potentially greater side effects, and potentially higher hospitalization rates.
  • Increased healthcare costs: The combined cost of more complex treatments and the potential for longer hospital stays could increase the burden on healthcare systems.
  • Greater risk of complications: Untreated infections can lead to serious complications, such as organ failure and even death.

How does antibiotic resistance occur?

Antibiotic resistance occurs through various mechanisms. Bacteria can acquire resistance genes through mutation or by exchanging genetic material with other bacteria, allowing them to develop strategies to neutralize antibiotics or evade their effects. These mechanisms include:

  • Enzymatic degradation: Some bacteria produce enzymes that break down antibiotics before they can exert their antimicrobial effects. For instance, β-lactamase enzymes can inactivate β-lactam antibiotics like penicillins and cephalosporins, rendering them ineffective.
  • Alteration of antibiotic targets: Bacteria can modify the target sites of antibiotics, such as bacterial cell walls or protein synthesis machinery, making them less susceptible to the drugs' effects.
  • Efflux pumps: Bacteria can develop efflux pumps, which are specialized proteins that actively pump antibiotics out of the bacterial cell, preventing the drugs from reaching effective levels.
  • Biofilm formation: Bacteria within biofilms, which are complex communities encased in a protective matrix, show increased resistance to antibiotics due to limited drug penetration and altered bacterial physiology.

Understanding the resistance mechanisms of these bacteria is a key step in the development of new antimicrobial drugs to tackle drug-resistant bacteria.

A collaborative effort against antibiotic resistance

Addressing antibiotic resistance also requires a multifaceted approach involving healthcare providers, policymakers, researchers, and the public. Key strategies include:

  • Prudent antibiotic use: Healthcare providers must prescribe antibiotics cautiously, adhering to evidence-based guidelines and avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use for viral infections or self-limiting conditions.
  • Surveillance and monitoring: Robust surveillance systems are essential for tracking antibiotic resistance patterns, identifying emerging threats, and guiding appropriate treatment strategies.
  • Infection prevention and control: Implementing measures to prevent infections, such as improved hygiene practices and vaccination programs, can reduce the need for antibiotics and minimize the spread of resistant bacteria.
  • Research and development: Investment in research to develop new antibiotics, alternative therapies, and diagnostic tools is crucial for staying ahead of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and ensuring effective treatment options.
  • Global collaboration: Antibiotic resistance is a global issue that requires coordinated efforts across borders. International collaboration is essential for sharing data, coordinating surveillance efforts, and implementing strategies to combat resistance effectively.

Antibiotic research and development

Antibiotic research and development begins with the discovery process which involves identifying organisms that produce antibiotic substances. Over what can take many years, possibilities are tested to identify which substances are not toxic to humans.

Candidates found during pre-clinical development are then placed in clinical trials where the drug is tested. Once the trials are complete and the drug is shown to be safe and effective, it must be registered with a governmental drug regulator prior to being prescribed.

The lengthy clinical trials, along with the long and extensive approval process, can make antibiotic research and development a very slow process spanning over many years. However, evaluating medical claims data can be a useful strategy to accelerate the go-to-market process.

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Healthcare Insights are developed with healthcare commercial intelligence from the Definitive Healthcare platform. Want even more insights? Start a free trial now and get access to the latest healthcare commercial intelligence on hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare providers.