Scientists Slam Rogue Online Pharmacies

By Jennifer Matesa 12/21/11

Leading experts call on doctors to warn patients about Internet drugstores.

Going after rogue internet drugstores

A group of scientists is going on the offensive against “rogue” online pharmacies. In a commentary published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine, the group says that American doctors remain remarkably ignorant about the availability of controlled drugs online—despite the fact that prescription drug abuse rates now outstrip those of all illegal drugs combined except cannabis. Because online pharmacies have no real legal oversight, they write, it's up to physicians to learn to recognize the signs of and risks for addiction in their patients, and to educate them about the dangers of buying drugs in the digital Wild West. The warning aren't without risks. “It's a little like saying to a teenager who is looking to use drugs, ‘Don’t go to that part of town, because there’s a lot of drugs there,’” Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study, told The Fix. “But there's a subset of patients with addictive personalities who haven’t become addicted yet. They’re hospitalized for back pain, treated with narcotics,  and have some continuing pain and they don’t want to bother their primary care doctor to get the medication. They’re not thinking to themselves they’re going to get addicted.” The issue of online pharmacies is part of a bigger problem, Jena says: “That is that physicians in general are not very good at dealing with substance abuse. It’s a complex disease—it’s not like we can say, ‘Your blood pressure is high, take this medication and your blood pressure will be low.’ We’re not really trained to identify which patients may be at risk and then treat accordingly.”

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Jennifer Matesa is a Voice Award Fellow at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is the author of the blog Guinevere Gets Sober. She is the author of several books, including the non-fiction, The Recovering Body, about physical and spiritual fitness for living clean and sober. You can find Jennifer on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.