NEW YORK, NY, July 9, 2008 – For five years, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has been tracking the availability of controlled prescription drugs over the Internet. This work is designed to examine the online availability of dangerous and addictive prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin, depressants like Valium and Xanax, and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall.
Our first report, You’ve Got Drugs! Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet, was released in February of 2004; we have updated the analysis each year. This report (You’ve Got Drugs! V: Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet) is the fifth in our series and is a snapshot of Internet access to these drugs. Each analysis was conducted in the first quarter of the year and involved 210 hours of staff time devoted to searching the Web for sites that advertise or offer for sale controlled prescription drugs. As a result, CASA now has five years of trend data which are included in this report.
CASA’s reports illustrate the extensive level of Internet activity related to controlled prescription drugs. This year the number of sites that advertise and offer controlled prescription drugs for sale declined somewhat from 2007. This decline may be a function of efforts on the part of federal agencies, state governments and financial institutions to crack down on Internet trafficking. However, widespread availability continues. This year CASA identified a total of 365 sites, including 206 advertising sites and 159 sites offering these drugs for sale. Only two of the selling sites were certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy as legitimate Internet pharmacy practice sites; the other 157 were rogue sites.
Eighty-five percent of the sites selling controlled prescription drugs do not require a prescription from the patient. Of those sites that require prescriptions, half permit the prescription to be faxed allowing significant opportunity for fraud. Most disturbing, there are no controls on any of these sites blocking access by children.
This report offers a range of recommendations and calls on the Congress to enact legislation closing this illicit channel of distribution. In 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), held hearings on this topic. In April of this year, the Senate passed a bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to prohibit delivery, distribution or dispensing of controlled substances over the Internet without a prescription issued by a practitioner who has conducted at least one in-person medical evaluation, and to require federal certification of online pharmacies. The Senate bill has been referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Judiciary but no further action has been taken. Further delay cannot be justified; it is time for Congress to act.
This White Paper was prepared under the direction of Susan E. Foster, MSW, CASA’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis. She was assisted by Stephen Heskett, an independent contractor, formerly with Beau Deitl Associates who conducted the analysis for CASA in the first three years. Roger Vaughan, DrPH, head of CASA’s Substance Abuse and Data Analysis Center (SADACSM), Clinical Professor of Biostatistics, Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and associate editor for statistics and evaluation for the American Journal of Public Health, conducted the data analysis with Elizabeth Peters, Senior Data Analyst at SADACSM. Jane Carlson and Jennie Hauser handled the administrative details.
We wish to thank MasterCard, Visa, American Express and PayPal who, for the first time this year, collaborated with us to explore the extent to which their payment processes can be used to purchase controlled drugs online without a prescription.
While many people and organizations were involved in this effort, the findings and opinions expressed herein are solely the responsibility of CASA.