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Fighting an antibiotic resistance — with taxes

Antibiotics drop out of a pill-compressor at a pharmacuticals plant.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: More than 63,000 Americans die each year from infections they get in hospitals that don't respond to antibiotics. That word from the Centers for Disease Control. The rapid growth of antibiotic resistant bugs worries health officials. But a new report from the think tank, Resources for the Future, suggests a novel approach to the problem. Helen Palmer has more from the Health Desk at WGBH.


HELEN PALMER: Antibiotic resistance isn't just a medical problem. A supply of effective drugs for bad bugs is a limited resource, like oil.
RAMANAN LAXMINARAYAN: We want to have a plan to manage antibiotics over the next 50 to 100 years.

Ramanan Laxminarayan is an economist with Resources for the Future. He says current incentives line up all wrong. It's quicker and cheaper for the doctor to give your sick child an antibiotic, even if it's not the best treatment.

And Laxminarayan says drug companies want you to use their antibiotics often, even though each use erodes their effectiveness.

LAXMINARAYAN: Nobody owns the effectiveness of antibiotics. We don't pay for resistance every time we decide to use antibiotics, whether appropriately or inappropriately.

Laxminarayan suggests an antibiotic tax to discourage excess use, and incentives for drug companies to work together to develop new antibiotics.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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