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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Narcotics Sold Online, No Rx Needed

Study Shows Some Web Sites Lack Controls to Keep Kids From Buying Drugs


Nearly one in five teenagers has abused prescription drugs in their lifetime, according to a 2005 survey. Many think prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, are easier to get than illicit drugs like cocaine or crack.

Children easily gained access to the online pharmacies by typing in a fake age. Yet in some cases, a child may still buy and receive drugs by providing true information -- even when their answers should raise red flags. A previous report revealed how a supervised 13-year-old ordered and received Ritalin after entering her own age, height, and weight on a site's questionnaire.

(Do you buy medications online, with or without a prescription? We’d like to hear from you on WebMD's Health Cafe message board.)

Internet Drug Trends

This report also reveals a trend in which many sites allow Internet users to buy a controlled substance after signing up for an online "medical consultation." Visitors must complete an online questionnaire about their medical history before having their prescription filled. However, the answers may or may not be reviewed by a doctor. Such sales do not constitute a legitimate doctor-patient relationship, according to the study authors.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Half of the sites that require prescriptions allowed faxed copies, creating a "significant opportunity for fraud."
  • The drugs most frequently offered for sale were drugs such as Xanax and Valium, followed closely by opioid painkillers including hydrocodone (contained in drugs like Vicodin, Lortab), codeine, and oxycodone (contained in drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet).
  • The number of sites offering stimulants for sale increased to levels not seen since 2004.

The report showed many sites do not require prescriptions:

  • 85% of online pharmacy anchor sites did not require a prescription to buy controlled drugs.
  • Of that group, 42% specifically said that no prescription was needed.
  • 13% never mentioned a prescription.
  • 45% offered an "online consultation."

The study also shows that many sites get their drugs from overseas:

  • Slightly less than a fourth of online pharmacy anchor sites said the drugs would ship from a U.S. pharmacy.
  • 40% said they'd come from outside the U.S.
  • 36% didn't say where the drug would be shipped from.

In April, the U.S. Senate passed a bill controlling Internet trafficking of controlled prescription drugs. The bill calls for federal certification of online pharmacies and prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of controlled substances online without a prescription issued by a practitioner who has conducted at least one in-person medical evaluation. The bill awaits House approval.

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