Prescription drugs purchased through the internet: who are the end users?

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jul 1;110(1-2):21-9. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.01.015.


Although prescription drugs are readily available on the Internet, little is known about the prevalence of Internet use for the purchase of medications without a legitimate prescription, and the characteristics of those that obtain non-prescribed drugs through online sources. The scientific literature on this topic is limited to anecdotal reports or studies plagued by small sample sizes. Within this context, the focus of this paper is an examination of five national data sets from the U.S. with the purpose of estimating: (1) how common obtaining prescription medications from the Internet actually is, (2) who are the typical populations of "end users" of these non-prescribed medications, and (3) which drugs are being purchased without a prescription. Three of the data sets are drawn from the RADARS (Researched Abuse Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance) System, a comprehensive series of studies designed to collect timely and geographically specific data on the abuse and diversion of a number of prescription stimulants and opioid analgesics. The remaining data sets include the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Our analysis yielded uniformly low rates of prescription drug acquisition from online sources across all five data systems we examined. The consistency of this finding across very diverse populations suggests that the Internet is a relatively minor source for illicit purchases of prescription medications by the individual end-users of these drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamines
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Poison Control Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drugs / economics*
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tranquilizing Agents
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Universities


  • Amphetamines
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Tranquilizing Agents