A vicodin pill
Abuse of prescription drugs, such as painkillers like Vicodin, has been linked to internet access in a study. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A new study links rising prescription drug abuse and internet-based pharmacies. Incidents of people being admitted to hospitals for overdosing on addictive medications increased between 2000 and 2007 along with the average internet usage. The link is likely not a direct one.

Prescription guidelines not applied in offshore, online pharmacies

A study has made a connection between the growth of internet usage and prescription drug abuse, according to the Los Angeles Times. The study is being published in Health Affairs, a non-partisan journal dedicated to medical policy issues. The data was compiled in a joint effort between researchers at the University of Southern California and Massachusetts General Hospital. The study looks at the number of people admitted to rehabilitation facilities due to addiction to prescription drugs and average internet usage. The researchers found that as internet usage rose, so did prescription drug abuse. Online pharmacy companies located offshore are partially blamed, as they do not fall under U.S. jurisdiction and make it easier to get prescriptions for painkillers, sedatives, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications.

Higher speed leads to higher rates of abuse

The frequency of abuse and the available speed of internet access were also linked in the study. The researchers found that for every 10  percent increase in the availability of high-speed internet in a given area, a 1 percent increase in admissions to treatment facilities for prescription drug abuse took place as well, according to Reuters. That suggests that as the internet becomes easier to use at high speed, it becomes easier for addicts to get drugs from unscrupulous online pharmacies. Oddly enough, admissions to the facilities in the study for illegal drugs and alcohol decreased. However, the authors readily admit to the study proving a coincidence, not a cause with an effect. Drug dealers sometimes purchase the drugs, according to Time, in order to sell them. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of prescription drug addicts said they actually got their drugs online.

Prescription drug deaths more common than illicit drug deaths

The Centers for Disease Control states that as of 2007, deaths due to overdose of opioid painkillers such as OxyContin were 1.93 times more common than deaths from cocaine overdose, and 5.38 times more common than deaths from heroin overdose. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, 7 million people over the age of 12 abused prescription drugs per month in 2009. The Obama administration recently proclaimed that it is seeking new prescription guidelines for opioid analgesics, according to the New York Times, in order to cut down on addictions and overdose. The White House is requesting $15.5 billion for illegal drug enforcement spending for fiscal year 2012. The Food and Drug Administration, the agency in charge of regulating pharmaceutical drugs, had a budget of only $3.2 billion in fiscal year 2010. More deaths occur from legal drugs.


Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-internet-drug-abuse-20110513,0,5119985.story

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/12/us-internet-drugabuse-idUSTRE74B6LP20110512?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews

Time: http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/12/study-internet-access-may-increase-prescription-drug-misuse/

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/health/20painkiller.html

Drug Enforcement Agency: http://www.justice.gov/dea/concern/prescription_drug_fact_sheet.html

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Poisoning/brief_full_page.htm And: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Poisoning/data.html

White House Drug Enforcement Budget (PDF – requires Adobe reader): http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/11budget/fy11Highlight.pdf

Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/ReportsManualsForms/Reports/BudgetReports/ucm153154.htm


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