Rogue online pharmacies have made it increasingly easy for prescription drug abusers to obtain controlled substances without a prescription, but greater awareness of this problem among physicians and law-enforcement agencies promises to curb this alarming trend.

How Illegitimate Online Pharmacies Work

According to a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, there are several types of illegal online pharmacies. Questionnaire-style pharmacies require consumers to answer a set of questions before an unknown physician writes a prescription for a patient he or she has never seen.

Other illegitimate online pharmacies ask that a prescription be faxed in, making it easy for drug-seeking patients to forge their own prescriptions. Most illegal online pharmacies make no pretenses at all and sell drugs without requiring a prescription or a medical history. Even children are able to purchase drugs easily from these sites. In 2008, an internet study performed by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found over 350 illegitimate online pharmacies. By June 2012, however, LegitScript, an online pharmacy verification service, counted over 40,000 online pharmacy websites worldwide, of which only 225 were legitimate.

What Types Of Prescription Drugs Are Abused

In the U.S., prescription medications and over-the-counter medications are abused more frequently than all other illegal drugs combined, with the exception of marijuana. Opioids (prescription pain medications), CNS depressants (including sleep medications and anti-anxiety medications), and stimulants (such as Ritalin) are the prescription medications most commonly abused.

Evidence Of A Growing Problem

It's difficult to know how many people are purchasing medications online without a prescription. In addition, drug dealers sometimes purchase medications online and then sell them to more users. However, epidemiological studies have shown that as high-speed internet access has increased, more and more people have been admitted to treatment centers for prescription medication addictions. However, admissions for people dependent on substances that are not available online (such as alcohol and heroin) have not increased.

Efforts To Stem The Tide

In 2008, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act became law. The law is named for Ryan Haight, an 18-year-old who died after overdosing on prescription drugs purchased online. The act makes it illegal for pharmacies to sell prescription medications over the Internet without first requiring patients to have a prescription written by a physician who personally examined them. Unfortunately however, efforts to shut down illegal websites are hindered since many of these companies have no known address or are located outside of the country. Greater law enforcement efforts are needed to stop these malevolent companies.

As more physicians are made aware of this problem, many are counseling patients on the dangers of buying medications online from disreputable dealers; in addition to questioning patients about purchasing medications online, and closely investigating their medication and supplement use.

What Anyone Can Do To Help

To determine whether or not an online pharmacy is legitimate, you may visit LegitScript or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These private companies help to protect public health by verifying legitimate pharmacies.

Do your part by using your prescription medications only as prescribed, storing them safely away from children and purchasing them from legitimate pharmacies.