Abuse of prescription drugs has reached epidemic levels, yet many physicians are often unaware of the availability of controlled substances over the Internet.
In a commentary in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, investigators describe the probable contribution of Internet pharmacies to the problem and outline potential strategies for addressing it.
Experts say awareness and new policies to combat the trade are critical to halt the growing abuse of prescription drugs. Measures are necessary to address the availability of these drugs on the Internet and increase physician awareness of the dangers posed by Internet pharmacies.
“Controlled prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Xanax, and Ritalin are easily purchased over the Internet without a prescription, yet physician awareness of this problem is low,” says Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the article.
“Abuse of medications purchased from websites can pose unique challenges to physicians because patients who abuse these medications may not fit clinical stereotypes of drug abusers.”
The authors note that abuse of controlled prescription drugs now exceeds abuse of all illegal drugs combined, except marijuana. In November, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin has more than tripled in the past decade.
Some illegitimate online pharmacies sell drugs with no prescription or medical information at all while others ask for completion of a questionnaire before a prescription is issued by a physician who has never seen the patient.
Studies from have found that 85 percent of websites offering controlled prescription drugs do not require a prescription, and many that do allow the prescription to be faxed, increasing the risk of forgery or fraud.