Improvements in internet access are leading to an increase in prescription drug abuse, as people find it easier to access rogue pharmacies online.
Investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Southern California (USC) have discovered that states with the greatest expansion in high-speed internet access from 2000 to 2007 also had the largest increase in hospital admissions for prescription drug abuse.
"We know we face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse in the United States. One need only look at statistics for college campuses, where prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances, to see the magnitude of the problem," says USC's Dana Goldman, the study's senior author.
"Our findings suggest that internet growth may partly explain the increase in prescription drug abuse, since it is well known that these drugs are easily available online."
In particular, they say, the recent marked rise in the abuse of prescription narcotic painkillers – drugs like Percocet and Oxycontin – corresponds with an increase in the number of online pharmacies, many of which ignore regulations requiring a physician's prescription.
Using Federal Communications Commission data, the researchers compared high-speed internet access in each state with admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities.
They found that each 10 percent increase in the availability of high-speed internet service in a state was accompanied by a one percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse.
The increases were strongest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives. During the same period admissions to treat abuse of alcohol, heroin or cocaine, substances not available online, showed minimal growth or actually decreased.
"The lack of an increase in abuse of drugs not available on the Internet suggests that an overall growth in drug-seeking behavior cannot explain the rise in prescription drug abuse," says lead author Anupam Jena of MGH.
"Further studies need to better evaluate how easily commonly abused prescription drugs can be purchased online and explore the importance to the problem of foreign internet pharmacies, which are outside the jurisdiction of the US government."
The growing problem of prescription drug addiction underscores the need for more prescription drug abuse treatment options for sufferers of the disease.