Digital danger: a review of the global public health, patient safety and cybersecurity threats posed by illicit online pharmacies

Br Med Bull. 2016 Jun;118(1):110-26. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldw016. Epub 2016 May 5.


Background: Amidst the rise of e-commerce, there has been a proliferation of illicit online pharmacies that threaten global patient safety by selling drugs without a prescription directly to the consumer. Despite this clear threat, little is known about the key risk characteristics, central challenges and current legal, regulatory and law enforcement responses.

Sources of data: A review was conducted of the English literature with search terms 'online pharmacies', 'Internet pharmacies', 'cyber pharmacies', 'rogue pharmacies', and 'e-pharmacies' using PubMed, JSTOR, and Google Scholar from 1999-2005.

Areas of agreement: Illicit online pharmacies are a rapidly growing public health threat and are characterized by a number of complex and interrelated risk factors.

Areas of controversy: Solutions are varied and are of questionable utility in the face of evolving technology that enables this form of transnational cybercrime.

Growing points: Legal, regulatory and technology solutions must address the entire illicit online pharmacy ecosystem in order to be effective.

Areas timely for developing research: There is a critical need to build international consensus, conduct additional research and develop technology to combat illicit online pharmacies.

Keywords: Internet governance; Internet pharmacies; cybercrime; cyberpharmacies; cybersecurity; e-pharmacy; online patient safety; online pharmacies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Computer Security / standards*
  • Consumer Product Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Consumer Product Safety / standards
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Information Services
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Marketing
  • Patient Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Patient Safety / standards
  • Pharmaceutical Services, Online / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prescription Drugs / supply & distribution*
  • Public Health*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care


  • Prescription Drugs