An inexpensive marketing campaign helped lower the rate of prescribed antibiotics in Italy, a country with one of the highest rates of antibiotic prescriptions in Europe.

The overuse of antibiotics around the world continues to contribute to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, presenting public health authorities with a major challenge. Around the globe, the overuse of antibiotics is common, as so-called “worried well” insist on prescriptions for antibiotics even when unnecessary.

Yet, a simple social marketing campaign implemented in the provinces of Modena and Parma in 2011 and last year helped to lower those prescription rates, compared with other provinces where no campaigns were conducted, researchers reported this month in the British Medical Journal. Designed to convey the idea that antibiotics are unnecessary in many circumstances, the information campaign targeted the general public with a secondary audience of medical providers, including physicians and pharmacists.

Campaigners informed the public that antibiotics are not effective against colds and influenza virus, and should be used only when prescribed by a doctor. The marketers used the slogan, “Antibiotics, solution or problem?” to push the message via posters, brochures, radio and newspaper ads, websites, and newsletters. They also sent information packages to physicians.

Subsequently, the prescription rate for antibiotics fell 12 percent in the two targeted provinces, compared to 7 percent in the neighboring provinces used as a control. Throughout the country, the rate of antibiotic prescriptions fell by 3 percent.

The findings showed that public health officials may fight the problem of antibiotic overuse with a nominal amount of money.

Below is a video presentation from the campaigners in Italy:

Source: Formoso, Giulio, Paltrinieri, Barbara, Marata, Anna Maria, Gagliotti, Carlo, Pan, Angelo, Moro, Maria Luisa. Feasibility And Effectiveness Of A Low Cost Campaign On Antibiotic Prescribing In Italy. British Medical Journal. 2013.