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Internet Access Boosts Prescription Drug Abuse?

By May 19, 2011

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Has the increase in rogue online pharmacies that sell without a prescription been a factor in the rapid increase in rates of prescription drug abuse that health officials say is now at a epidemic level? Could the eclipsing of illegal drug use by prescription drug use on college campuses be linked to greater access to online sources of pills?

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Southern California think they have found a link between the increase in access to high-speed Internet and the growth in prescription drug abuse.

Dana Goldman, PhD, director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC, said the study findings suggest the growth in Internet access is at least a partial explanation for the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

The researchers compared Federal Communications Commission statistics on access to high-speed Internet service in each state with the statistics for substance abuse treatment admissions gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Increase in High-Speed Acess

Their analysis of the government statistics for 2000 to 2007 found:

  • For each 10% increase in availability of high-speed Internet service in a state corresponded with a 1% increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse.

  • The increases were greatest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives.

  • Admissions for drugs not available online, such as heroin and cocaine, showed no growth or declined in those same states.

Non-Internet Drug Use Declined

Because admissions for treatment for alcohol, heroin and cocaine remained flat or actually decreased during the seven-year period, the increase in prescription drug abuse cannot be explained by a general increase in drug-seeking behavior, the researchers concluded.

Drugs available on the Internet increased in use during the 2000-2007 period, while those not available did not increase.

"The lack of an increase in abuse of drugs not available on the Internet suggests that an overall growth in drug-seeking behavior cannot explain the rise in prescription drug abuse," lead author Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, said in a news release.

How Easy Is It?

Narcotic painkillers, like Percocet and Oxycontin, can be purchased from rogue websites, some of which are outside the United States and not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.

The researchers believe more studies need to be conducted to determine just how easily these drugs can be purchased online and extensive the problem is with foreign Internet pharmacies.

Jena, AB, et al. "Growing Internet Use May Help Explain The Rise In Prescription Drug Abuse In The United States." Health Affairs May 2011.

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