Websites Advertising and Selling Prescription Drugs Increase by 70%

Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, over the last three years the number of websites selling controlled prescription drugs such as opioids, depressants and stimulants has increased. The findings were presented in a new White Paper, “You’ve Got Drugs!” IV: Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet, in May 2007 by CASA and released that same month at the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Rogue Online Pharmacies: The Growing Problem of Internet Drug Trafficking” [1].

Online drugs


Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA Chairman and President, said before the Senate Judiciary Committee [2]:

The explosion in the prescription of addictive opioids, depressants and stimulants has, for many children, made their parents’ medicine cabinet a greater threat than the illegal street drug dealer. But, perhaps the most wide-open substance supermarket in the world is the Internet, which has become a pharmaceutical candy store, its shelves stacked with an array of addictive prescription drugs offering a high to any kid with a credit card number at the click of a mouse.

Joseph A. Califano Jr. served as Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic affairs chief and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, where he started the nation’s first national anti-smoking campaign in 1978, calling cigarette smoking “Public Health Enemy Number One.” In 1992, he founded The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, recognized today as the nation’s top think tank on substance abuse involving tobacco, alcohol and illegal, prescription and performance enhancing drugs. The nonprofit organization aims to inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives.

Prescription drugs and the internet

Between 1992 and 2002, prescriptions written for controlled drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Valium, Xanax, Ritalin and Adderall increased 154% [3]. The increase in prescriptions is 12 times the rate of increase in the U.S. population and almost three times the rate of increase in prescriptions written for all other drugs. Abuse of those drugs has also increased, from 7.8 million in 1992 to 15.1 million in 2003 [1].

The CASA White Paper indicated that, from 2006 to 2007, there has been a:

  • 70% increase in the number of websites advertising or selling controlled prescription drugs over the internet
  • 135% increase in the number of websites advertising controlled prescription drugs
  • 7% increase in websites offering to sell controlled prescription drugs

More than two-thirds (84%) of websites selling controlled prescription drugs do not require a prescription from the patient’s physician. Of those sites that do require a prescription, more than half (57%) allow it to be faxed, giving the patient significant opportunity to forge the physician’s signature or use the same prescription multiple times.

Depressants (benzodiazepines) such as Xanax and Valium are the most frequently offered, sold on 79% of the websites selling controlled prescription drugs. Opiods such as Vicodin and OxyContin follow, sold on 64% of the sites. There are no controls in place to prohibit the sale of these drugs to children.

Keep in mind that these findings are a sampling of controlled prescription drug availability and do not capture the total number of sites advertising or selling controlled prescription drugs online.

Children are especially at risk

From 1992 to 2003, the number of children that admitted to abusing a prescription drug increased by 212% [2]. Even more shocking, from 1992 to 2002 new abuse of prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin in children between the ages of 12 to 17 increased by a whopping 542%, more than four times the rate of increase among adults.

While Americans represent only 4% of the world’s population, they consume two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs [2]. A recent study was published assessing the motives and diversion sources associated with the nonmedical use of prescription opioids [4]. The three most common motives were to: (1) relieve pain; (2) get high; and (3) experiment. The leading sources for obtaining prescription opioids were friends and parents.

Compared to teens who do not abuse controlled prescription drugs, those who do are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, 12 times more likely to use heroin, 15 times more likely to use Ecstasy and 21 times more likely to use cocaine [3].

Addressing the issue

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has attempted to address the issue of online access to controlled prescription drugs and provide some assurance to consumers of legitimate websites by establishing a process for online pharmacy certification. Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) identifies to the public those online pharmacy websites that are appropriately licensed, legitimately operated via the Internet and have successfully completed a rigorous criteria review and inspection.

A complete list of these sites can be found in the Pharmacy category of the Highlight HEALTH Web Directory.

For those interested, you can read the CASA White Paper, “You’ve Got Drugs!” IV: Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet, here.

What do you think about the increase in websites advertising and selling controlled prescription drugs? Have you ever bought drugs online? Why or why not?

References

  1. “You’ve Got Drugs!” IV: Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. 2007 May.
  2. Chairman’s Statements: Statement by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. CASA Chairman and President, before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on Rogue Online Pharmacies: The Growing Problem of Internet Drug Trafficking. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. 2007 May 16.
  3. Under the counter: The diversion and abuse of controlled prescription drugs in the U.S. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. 2005 July.
  4. McCabe et al. Motives, diversion and routes of administration associated with nonmedical use of prescription opioids. Addict Behav. 2007 Mar;32(3):562-75. Epub 2006 Jul 13.
    View abstract
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.