Hot Topic: Online Pharmacies and Prescription Drug Abuse

More teens are going online to illegally buy prescription medications. What should physicians do to prevent this and warn patients of the dangers?

A couple of months ago, I did an online search for generic tretinoin cream to compare costs between pharmacies and physician-owned boutique apothecaries, and eventually found the cheapest prices at Walmart.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say about never being alone on the Internet, because while I was online searching for this information, someone else found me. Within a matter of days, I began receiving e-mails that sported innocent subject lines such as “How are you?”, but were actually advertisements for a variety of prescription drugs -- all supposedly available without a seeing a doctor.

No kidding. They nailed my home and website IP address that fast. And the e-mails weren’t just for cosmetic treatments. They also offered sildenafil, oxycodone, and alprazolam, all by brand name.

Most people would recognize this kind of phishing activity for what it is. However, just the fact that aggressive phishing campaigns are organized around prescription drugs tells you that these spammers are confident that enough people will respond. Now, it just so happens that I have taught high school, and if there is any doubt in your mind that teens are, in general, going to be suckered into these kinds of ploys, let me lay it to rest.

The majority of teens aren’t savvy enough to check out the source and they will shop online a little just out of sheer curiosity. Others will attempt to purchase a prescription drug illegally because they feel anonymous online (even though they are anything but). Some of these sources are simply angling for information that will give them access to a credit card or bank account, but some do sell prescription drugs illegally and kids are prime targets.

This is telling, because according to recent reports, prescription dug abuse in America is now as common as illegal drug abuse, and is particularly common among teens.

Why prescription drugs? Maybe the fact that a drug comes by prescription, even if it’s not your prescription, takes some of the guilt out of the high. Maybe it feels safer coming from a pharmacy. Or maybe it’s readily available in Mom or Dad’s medicine cabinet, and when that’s all gone, teens consider “shopping” doctors, visiting dubious online websites, or PhotoShopping prescription pads for more. To sum it up, it’s often easier to get a prescription drug than an illegal drug. And thanks to technology, never before has it been so easy for teens to get their hands on these kinds of medications

HCPLive wants to know:

Doctors, how prevalent is this dangerous online behavior among teens? How often do you see it in your practices?How does your practice address this issue? Do you regularly talk to your teenage patients about the dangers of trying to buy prescription medications illegally online?Do you involve the parents in these conversations?Can you recommend any good online resources for physicians or patients that can help them learn more about this issue?