Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem, particularly among young people. While many users access the medications via prescriptions from their own doctors (sometimes multiple doctors) or by buying or stealing the drugs from others, online pharmacies also make it easy to acquire potentially dangerous substances.
[box type="note"]Considering that prescription drug abuse has grown by 430% since 2007, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, it’s clear that the controls that are currently in place are not working.[/box]
As Internet access has become commonplace, so has the ability to buy controlled prescription drugs over the web. Online pharmacies – many of them operating illegally – make it incredibly easy for anyone, particularly young people, to fill prescriptions that may or may not be legitimate. OxyContin, Ritalin, Xanax and other medications are readily available online, whether the purchaser needs them or not.
The vast majority of online pharmacies operate like any other online business, allowing customers to purchase the medications they want without any proof that they have prescriptions for those drugs. Others skirt the regulations by having a “physician” on staff do an online consultation and then prescribe medication based on the symptoms the customer claims to have. Still others accept faxed copies of prescriptions and do not authenticate them, creating the risk of fraudulent and phony prescriptions.
While there are few statistics available on how the drugs acquired at online pharmacies are actually used, some studies suggest that at least 10 percent of prescription drug users acquire their drugs via the computer. Experts believe this is an underestimate, and they also point out that online pharmacies are a convenient source for local drug dealers to acquire a stash for resale.
Regardless of whether the prescriptions that online pharmacies fill are legitimate, getting drugs from such an unregulated source is a dangerous practice. While some online pharmacies do follow FDA rules and confirm prescriptions before filling them, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal and unregulated pharmacies on the Internet.
[box type="important"]When individuals order drugs from these shady pharmacies, there’s no guarantee that the medications they receive will be the safe and proper dosage or even real drugs. It’s easy for online pharmacies to sell counterfeit drugs that contain dangerous chemicals or fillers.[/box]
This is why online pharmacies are believed to contribute to the growing number of prescription drug overdoses that occur every year. Physicians who see patients in person can confirm a diagnosis and prescribe medication based on the weight, condition and history of the patient.
Without that information and a licensed doctor’s or pharmacist’s expertise, online pharmacies fill prescriptions that can be significantly stronger than necessary, increasing the possibility of illness, overdose or even death.
In many ways, the Internet is still a lot like the Wild West, with lawmakers and law enforcement officials constantly grappling with new challenges to try to prevent crime. The federal government has regulations in place to control online pharmacies, but for every illegal operation that is closed, another one (or five) pops up in its place.
When illegal pharmacies are discovered, the FDA sends warning letters to the pharmacies and any associated providers, but since many pharmacies operate under assumed names or outside of the United States, these efforts are largely ineffective.
In fact, in 2008, Congress passed the Ryan Height Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, which made it illegal for physicians to prescribe drugs to patients they have not physically seen, yet the law has done little to no good in stemming the tide of drugs coming out of online pharmacies.
Local and federal authorities just do not have the resources to investigate these pharmacies and their customers, and as a result, illegal prescription drugs are flooding the marker.
Authorities are trying to engage physicians in the fight against illegal internet pharmacies. Physicians are encouraged to discuss online pharmacy purchases with patients, making questions about internet drug purchases part of standard patient interviews and questionnaires and providing warnings about the drugs that are available from unregulated pharmacies.
Experts recommend this standard line of questioning because doctors may not suspect prescription drug abuse since many purchasers do not fit the profile of a drug abuser yet may be unwittingly taking a dangerous substance.
Studies show that as high-speed internet access increases, the incidence of prescription drug abuse also increases. Clearly, online pharmacies are contributing to this epidemic. Doctors, law enforcement and the general public need to be aware of the problem and of the potential dangers of buying and using unregulated prescription drugs.
This Post was written and contributed by Ricky Stanton. Ricky has over 10 years of experience helping people with their drug and alcohol rehab programs. He hopes to continue to help educate others about the dangers of drug and alcohol addictions.