A study to be published in the December 1999 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (available on the internet at http://www.acponline.org/journals/annals/05oct99/bloom.htm ), addresses the growing dangerous practice of purchasing prescription drugs through the internet. The study conducted by Bernard S. Bloom, PhD, and Ronald C. Iannacone, BS at the Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, not only addresses the danger of purchasing drugs over the Internet but also discussed the economic disadvantage for consumers to do so.
The conclusions of the study showed that prescription drugs purchased online were on average more expensive that those purchased in traditional ways. The study also showed that many sites that sold such drugs had no prescription requirements or relaxed requirements that amounted to not much more than and online questionnaire.
The most popular drugs sold online are Viagra, Propecia, Prozac, weight loss pills, birth control pills, and smoking cessation pills. One concern expressed by the authors of the study was the quality of these medications. Since several of the sites were from outside North America, the authors suggested that the strength or purity of the medications could be compromised.
Part of the rise in drug sales on the Internet could well be due to the increase in advertising geared directly to consumers by the major drug companies. In an article published in the September 25th 1999 British Medical Journal, it is reported that U.S. drug companies spend more than one billion dollars per year on advertising aimed directly to the public. This advertising and the easy availability of drugs on the Internet may account for the dramatic rise in drug sales over the last several years. The January 7, 1999 New England Journal of Medicine reported that prescription drug usage increased by 14.1 percent in 1997 alone.
These daunting figures should be tempered by a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association addressing the subject of unintended side-effects of properly prescribed, properly administered medications. The authors of this article estimate deaths from properly prescribed medications to exceed 106,000 deaths per year. With these numbers so high one can only speculate with concern what the increase in death rate will be from self medication over the Internet.