Trusted Content

The Danger Of Buying Drugs Over The Internet

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

April 5, 2019

Online pharmacies offer many enticements to individuals suffering from prescription drug addiction. The promise of easy access and consequence-free satiation for one’s addiction holds its allure. Buying drugs online can be very dangerous, however, and can lead to many serious consequences.

A Rising Cause of Prescription Drug Abuse

Online pharmacies developed in the early 2000’s with the spread of high-speed Internet access across the globe. During those same years, the United States saw a dramatic increase in prescription drug abuse. Several recent studies have indicated a strong correlation between the two. For instance, one team of medical researchers found that in states with the greatest increases of high-speed Internet access between 2000 and 2007, rates of prescription drug addiction skyrocketed as well, while rates of addiction to illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, remained relatively unchanged. These and other findings suggest that the availability of prescription drugs online is an important contributing factor to the prescription drug abuse epidemic. What makes online pharmacies such a likely culprit, and how do they get away with it?

A large part of the problem is the uncertain legal territory in which many online pharmacies operate. The ability to conduct commerce online has opened up unprecedented legal loopholes unavailable to businesses of the past. The world of pharmacies is no exception. Of the literally thousands of online pharmacies on the Internet today, only a small percentage have a comparable reputable legal status to that of conventional, brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

In fact, a recent study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) found that only 3% of the nearly 11,000 online pharmacies reviewed were in compliance with state and federal regulations. The remaining 97% showed a troubling lack of standards and deliberate avoidance of the law. The goal of this circumvention is clear; to get as many drugs as possible, to as many customers as possible, and to target those suffering from addiction in particular.

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Targeting the Most Vulnerable

Online pharmacies regularly sell even the most addictive prescription drugs without requiring a valid prescription. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a valid prescription is one that stems from a meaningful, in-person encounter between doctor and patient. Many illegitimate websites ask the customer merely to fill out a superficial medical questionnaire, which then gets approved by a contracted doctor with whom the customer, legally speaking, never actually has meaningful contact. Some websites skip even this step and require no medical information from the customer whatsoever.

Both methods offer an enticing lure to individuals struggling with prescription drug addiction. Not having to rely on one’s actual doctor or face the danger of going to a street dealer means that satiation is a mere mouse-click away. And yet, the ease of access throws the road to recovery that much further off into the distance.

Perhaps most troubling, not only do these websites seek to profit from existing addictions; they also create new ones in the youngest and most vulnerable among us. By not requiring a valid prescription or in-person identity verification, online pharmacies make it easier than ever for adolescents to get their hands on addictive substances. A moment alone with a parent’s credit card may be the precursor to a lifelong dependence on prescription drugs.

Gambling With One’s Life

On the one hand, recent crackdowns on online pharmacies have resulted in imprisonment for some of the doctors and pharmacists involved. Although the legal fallout usually stays on the distribution side, the DEA has pointed out that charges are occasionally brought upon customers as well. On the other hand, it is true that the threat of prison is often not enough to counteract the powerful pull that addiction and withdrawal exert on the sufferer of substance abuse. To this end, it is important to recognize some of the more immediate risks that online pharmacies pose for one’s physical health and safety.

For starters, online pharmacies are not bound by the same safety regulations or oversight mechanisms as brick-and-mortar pharmacies. This leads to problems such as inaccurate or inconsistent dosing from pill to pill, which increases the risk of overdose if one ingests a higher amount of the active ingredient than intended. Although a person dependent on prescription medication may be intimately familiar with dosing calculations, all bets are off when the pills in question have been purchased illegally online.

Another danger is the use of unsafe ingredients as filler material or coloring agents, especially among websites attempting to sell counterfeit versions of drugs. Examples include boric acid, sheetrock, and brick dust, and even illicit substances such as methamphetamine. A recent Interpol investigation in Columbia even unearthed the presence of rat poison in certain fake medications.

Couple these physical threats with the potential for a credit card or identity theft created by lax cybersecurity, and it becomes clear: struggling with any abused substance puts one’s life in danger, but the risks increase exponentially when that substance comes from an unregulated online source.

Resources for Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and has turned to online pharmacies in that struggle, please contact us at RehabCenter.net. The Internet has undoubtedly created new pathways for addiction, but we hope to show you that it has also opened up new paths to recovery.

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