For the latest installment in the “studies with obvious results” series, we turn to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which finds that online drug sales often bypass prescriptions:
A large majority of 365 Internet sites that advertise or sell controlled medications by mail are offering to supply the drugs without a proper prescription, according to a new study. The online trade is stoking the rising abuse of addictive and dangerous prescription drugs, the authors and federal officials say.
“Nevertheless, anyone of any age can obtain dangerous and addictive prescription drugs with the click of a mouse,” Mr. Califano said. The center is issuing the study, the latest of five annual surveys, on Wednesday.
This should surprise no one who’s received any amount of spam on the subject, spam with subjects such as these, from my spam logs:
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It also should not be a surprise because of what online shopping gives us access to.
Federal law bars dispensing dangerous medications without a prescription from a doctor who has a bona fide relationship with the patient. But officials have had a hard time catching up to rogue Internet pharmacies that sometimes ship the drugs from foreign countries in disguised packages.Short of having every package opened, there’s little we can do. Obviously, when officials get wind of something — someone within the US who they can arrest, or a source outside the US they can track and block — they do something about it, and new laws may help there. But it can be very hard:
For the last several years, the Drug Enforcement Administration and others have worked to halt the illegal trade and prosecute involved doctors and suppliers, with limited success.
“One of the main problems is that the sites can literally open up for a week, close and open up under a different name,” said Michael Sanders, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
For the study, the researchers did their own searches, using popular search engines — they didn’t respond to spam. They found 159 sites that sold drugs directly, and 135 of those would sell drugs without a prescription (or, equivalently, with just the buyer’s say-so that a prescription was in hand).
An interesting aspect of this is that some of the sites selling pharmaceuticals online are advertising not just through spam, but also by placing ads on those legitimate web sites and search engines — Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and others. Let’s see how much luck they have in shutting that down.
As I’ve said before, while I might make fun of studies that produce obvious results, that doesn’t mean that It’s not worth doing these sorts of studies. They validate what we know, they provide references to concrete data for other work, and, in cases like this where the study is repeated periodically, they demonstrate trends and changes over time.
The text of this year’s study is here.