Study: Rogue Online Pharmacies Linked To Increased Drug Abuse

The proliferation of easily available medications from “rogue” online pharmacies may be driving the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, researchers report.

Investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Southern California found “states with the greatest expansion in high-speed Internet access from 2000 to 2007 also had the largest increase in admissions for treatment of prescription drug abuse.”

The report, which focused on online pharmacies that dispense drugs without a doctor’s prescription, was published today online by the journal Health Affairs.

According to the news release:

In their report, [Dana] Goldman, PhD, director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC and lead author Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, of the MGH Department of Medicine, note that the recent marked rise in the abuse of prescription narcotic painkillers – drugs like Percocet and Oxycontin – corresponds with an increase in the presence of online pharmacies, many of which do not adhere to regulations requiring a physician’s prescription. Drugs that are frequently abused – painkillers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers – often can be purchased from rogue sites that may be located outside the U.S. The current study was designed to examine the potential link between online availability and prescription drug abuse, an association that has been suspected but not investigated in depth.

Using data available from the Federal Communications Commission, the researchers first compiled statistics on access to high-speed Internet service in each state during the years studied. Since actual rates of prescription drug abuse would be difficult if not impossible to calculate, they used information on admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities from a database maintained by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Changes in both measures over the seven years were analyzed on a per-state basis, and treatment admissions were categorized by the particular types of abused substances involved.

The analysis indicated that each 10 percent increase in the availability of high-speed Internet service in a state was accompanied by an approximately 1 percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse. The increases were strongest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives. During the same period admissions to treat abuse of alcohol, heroin or cocaine, substances not available online, showed minimal growth or actually decreased.

For more on the prescription drug abuse epidemic — accidental overdose deaths from these medications now exceed crack deaths in the 1980s — listen to this segment of On Point. The program examines the “pill mills” in Florida that funnel the drugs into poor communities of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, and includes interviews with former addicts on how oxycontin and other prescription narcotics decimated their lives.

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