Internet Usage and Prescription Drug Abuse

By Emily Murray

The Internet has brought an overwhelming amount of information to our finger tips and has become such an integral part of our everyday lives that be barely even recognize it’s presence anymore. Google searches now take the place of asking a friend for advice, settling a debate on the exact wording of a popular movie quote and it even connects us to people in other countries we would never ordinarily get the chance to meet.

But of course, there is a downside…

Every day we read headlines highlighting the dangers of  “cyber-bullying,” sabotage and teens learning to make deadly bombs or finding where to purchase guns illegally. A recent study of Internet usage and prescription drug abuse has also highlighted how the “information superhighway” has made a deadly addiction even easier to begin.

This insight was gathered through a study published this month in Health Affairs and recently inspired an article on TIME Healthland. According to both sources, between the years of 1997 and 2007 the average access to the Internet in the American home rose from 18% to 61%. Additionally, from 1999-2003 prescription drug sales online went for $160 million to $3.2 billion. What appears to be a mixed message however is that a national study revealed  merely 0.1% of painkillers which are misused are ordered over the Internet. As the TIME article points out however, those involved with the study were occasional users rather than the hardcore abusers. This sampling  skews the validity of the overall figure.

In other related news, Google may finally be settling the U.S. government investigation they launched to look more closely at the online pharmacy ads which were allowed to be displayed through Google’s ad campaign. These sneaky practices by “rogue” pharmacies included creating pages for users to land on when common prescription drug names were misspelled.This being said, drug dealers (both the conventional street dealers and the tricky illegal online pharmacies) are hard to track down and capture. Google is constantly being bombarded with spam and other problems when it comes to prescription drug listings.

So how does the street meet the Web?

Apparently speculation shows that while a shockingly lower number of people admit abusing drugs they receive directly from a shady website which requires no prescription, they may be inadvertently getting these medications through a dealer who gets his/her supply online.

As quoted in the Time Healthland article –
“In general, for every 10% increase in Internet use, what we’re seeing is a 1% increase in admission to treatment facilities for the most commonly prescribed drugs, things like painkillers and stimulants,” says lead author Dana Goldman, Norman Topping Chair of Medicine and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.”

While the study is said to be more of a “hypothesis-generating study,” it does bring up an interesting correlation between the increase in prescription drug abuse and increase in computer usage. While it is hard to understand why this may necessarily be true, on a more basic level some may see this as a direct influence on social networking sites making it easier for drug dealers to reach a wider audience. This wouldn’t mean that the drugs were necessarily purchased online as some may think, however it can help drum up business for those selling prescription drugs illegally.

For further information about today’s prescription drug abuse trend, also read New Government Plan to Cut Back on Prescription Drug Abuse.