Vitamins are for sale in front of the pharmacy at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas June 5, 2008.
Vitamins are for sale in front of the pharmacy at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas June 5, 2008. Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

A recent report has linked the rise of prescription drug abuse to an increasing amount of rogue online pharmacies, which dispense medications without a doctor's prescription.

The report, led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Southern California (USC), found states with the greatest expansion of high-speed Internet access from 2000 to 2007 simultaneously had the largest increase in admissions for treatment of prescription drug abuse.

For each state with a 10 percent increase in the availability of high-speed Internet service, there was a approximately one percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse. The increase was strongest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives.

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, Dr. Dana Goldman, PhD and director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC said. Our findings suggest that Internet growth may partly explain the increase in prescription drug abuse, since it is well known that these drugs are easily available online.

Goldman co-authored the study along with Dr. Anupam B. Jena, PhD, of the MGH Department of Medicine. It will be in the June edition of the medical journal Health Affairs and is available online today.

The study's authors said the rise of painkillers such as Percocet and Oxycontin has directly corresponded with an increasing amount of rogue online pharmacies. Many of these pharmacies, the authors said, do not adhere to regulations requiring a physician's prescription. Meanwhile, treatment of other substances which are not available online, such as alcohol, heroin or cocaine, either declined or stabled off.

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. Further studies need to better evaluate how easily commonly abused prescription drugs can be purchased online and explore the importance to the problem of foreign Internet pharmacies, which are outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, Jena said.

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