World and Nation

US seeks to curb dangers of antibiotic resistance

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday announced measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, outlining a national strategy that includes incentives for the development of new drugs, tighter stewardship of existing ones, and improvements in tracking the use of antibiotics and the microbes that are resistant to them. The actions are the first major White House effort to confront a public health crisis that takes at least 23,000 lives a year, and many experts were pleased that a president had finally focused on the issue. But some said the strategy fell short in not recommending tougher measures against the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, which, they argue, is a big part of the problem. Researchers have been warning for years that antibiotics are losing their power because of overuse. Some warn that if the trend is not halted, we could return to the time before antibiotics, when it was common for people to die from ordinary infections and for children not to survive strep throat.

Dr. John P. Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters that the new strategy — established by an executive order that President Barack Obama signed Thursday — was intended to jolt the federal government into action to combat a health crisis that many experts say it has been slow to recognize.

Under the order, Obama created a national task force to be led by the secretaries of health and human services, defense and agriculture, and required that they deliver a five-year action plan by Feb. 15.

“This represents a major elevation of the issue,” Holdren said. He said the order also established a $20 million prize for the development of a diagnostic test that could be used in hospitals to quickly identify highly resistant bacterial infections.

Americans use more antibiotics than people in other industrialized nations, with rates more than twice those in Germany and the Netherlands, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. The United States also uses far more antibiotics in livestock than many other nations; animals raised for food in America are given about six times as much antibiotics as are animals in Norway and Denmark.

“We’ve been like a frog in the pot as the water heats up,” said Allan Coukell, the senior director for drugs and medical devices at Pew. “Now the administration is saying we can’t keep going like this, that we have to tackle this crisis, and here’s a road map.”