Prescription Drug Abuse Rates Increase With Greater Internet Access

Prescription drug abuse is up across the United States, and researchers believe increases in Internet access may be to blame.Investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Southern California have found that large increases in prescription drug abuse have paralleled expansions in high-speed Internet access from 2000 to 2007.Specifically, the states with the largest increases of people seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse are also the states which have had the greatest expansions in Internet access.

Each 10 percent increase in the availability of Internet service in a state was accompanied by an approximately 1 percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse, according to the analysis.  The increases were strongest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives.

Interestingly, the same did not hold true for illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin.  Admissions to treatment centers for abuse of those drugs either held steady or decreased in relation to increasing Internet access.

“We know we face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse in the United States,” said study author Dana Goldman, PhD, director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC, in a press release.

“One need only look at statistics for college campuses, where prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances, to see the magnitude of the problem,” she added. “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.”

Researchers say the presence of online pharmacies, many of which do not adhere to regulations requiring a physician’s prescription, allow visitors to purchase frequently abused drugs – such as painkillers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers – from rogue sites that may be located outside the U.S.

“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,” the researchers said.

“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.”