Report: The Internet and Drugs Don’t Mix


Approximately a quarter of all Americans have researched prescription drugs
online, but only a few are buying pharmaceuticals through the Internet,
according to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.


With the price of prescription drugs increasingly becoming a political hot
button, the study illustrated that only
four percent of Americans have purchased drugs online, and that the majority of
those purchased them from U.S.-based sites.


The new study also revealed that 62 percent of Americans think buying
prescription drugs online is less safe than purchasing them at a local
pharmacy.


“It surprised me that the level of activity for buying was so low,” report
author Susannah Fox said. “There’s a high level of discussion but a low
level of activity.”


The Pew telephone survey of 2,200 American adults was undertaken just one
month before the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to allow
prescription drug imports from Canada and other countries. The Senate
has not enacted similar legislation.


In addition, the federal government announced changes to the Medicare
system, including the publication of prescription drug prices online. And
Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Hampshire have launched directories
of recommended Canadian pharmacies, which offer prices below those in the
United States.


At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry has strongly opposed the importation of
drugs, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that it cannot
guarantee the safety of imported drugs. However, a June 2004 General
Accounting Office study found that Canadian online pharmacies are just as
likely as U.S.-based sites to adhere to safety standards.


“With the general sense of anxiety [about drug prices], now is actually a
good time for a discussion of the issue,” Fox said. “Now that the cost and
safety of prescription drugs have come to the forefront of policy debates,
we see that significant numbers of Americans are turning to the Internet to
get information and explore drug purchases.”


Fox said Pew has been tracking “significant increases” over the past five
years of Americans seeking health information through the Internet. While a
relatively few are currently buying online, Fox said there are indications
that Americans could change their minds about the safety of online
prescription purchases.


As an example, the Pew report cites data that shows the online travel
industry saw a 90 percent growth rate between 2000 and 2004. The report says
Internet users who have done travel-related research online are more likely
to book online than those who do not do online research.


“If an increasing number of Americans goes online to to research
prescription drugs, online pharmacies may see an accompanying increase in
customers,” the report stated.


Of Americans who have purchased online prescription drugs, nine out of 10 say
they plan to do so again.


“Those who were dissatisfied with their purchases are unlikely to cite
reasons related to fears about drug safety,” the report said. “As more
municipalities and states encourage online prescription drug purchases, it
seems likely that the universe of potential satisfied customers will grow.”

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