Online Pharmacies Contribute Toward Increased Drug Abuse

Stacey Doyle's picture

A recent joint study from the University of Southern California and Massachusetts General Hospital revealed the growing use of high-speed Internet contributed to an increase in the abuse of prescription drugs in the United States.

A study from the USC and Massachusetts General Hospital published in the online journal “Health Affairs” linked the increase in admissions for treatment for prescription drug abuse to expanded high-speed Internet use between 2000 and 2007.

Health News reports senior author Dana Goldman stated, “We know we face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse in the United States. One need only look at statistics for college campuses, where prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances, to see the magnitude of the problem.”

To add to the possibility of drug abuse, a 2008 study revealed prescriptions drugs can sometimes be purchased online without a doctor's prescription. The study conducted by a group of Columbia University researchers discovered pain medications such as morphine and oxycodone could be easily purchased online along with depressants such as Valium and Xanax and amphetamine stimulants.

Despite the fact these drugs are controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), they are still available online and often do not require a prescription. It is estimated 85 percent of online pharmacies are marketing medications without requiring a doctor's script.

Online pharmacies are realizing increased popularity because of the rising prices of name brand drugs in the United States. Price controls are not placed on pharmaceutical companies in the US, which mean prices can soar. Citizens turn to online resources to save money with Internet pharmacies offering drugs for up to 80 percent off typical US prices.

While prices might be lower, counterfeit medications remain a major concern. Drugs made with erroneous, inactive or harmful ingredients are labeled to look like the real thing. A chemical analysis is required to test the integrity of these drugs.

Study results published in “Health Affairs” revealed admissions to rehab treatment facilities increased by about 1% for stimulants, narcotics and sedative-hypnotics for every 10% increase in high-speed Internet use. Meanwhile, admission for cocaine, alcohol and heroin either grew minimally or declined from 2000 to 2007.

The LA Times reports authors of the study indicated the research does not necessarily prove online pharmacies are to blame for increased admissions at treatment facilities. The paper states, “Our work is hypothesis generating: It raises the possibility that the observed growth in U.S. prescription drug abuse may partially stem from wider Internet availability through online pharmacies that sell prescription drugs illegally.”

Changes in data collection at treatment facilities and state laws to close down online pharmacies could also impact the study results.

In conclusion, the study states, “Based on our findings, recent efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to shut down illegitimate pharmacies not only seem warranted but may also lead to substantial reductions in prescription drug abuse.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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