US study casts spotlight on illegal online pharmacies

A study has found a sizeable drop since last year - from 581 to 365 - in the number of online pharmacies willing to supply US residents with prescription drugs without a proper physician's endorsement.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has released data showing that 85 per cent of all Internet pharmaceutical sales involve products that are controlled by the DEA, compared with only 11 per cent for general pharmacies in the USA.

From this, the DEA concludes that the primary purpose of many online pharmacies is the misuse of prescription drugs, a problem which has been the focus of considerable public discussion following the death of Oscar-winning actor Heath Ledger and the arrest of former Vice President Al Gore's son for possession of prescribed drugs.

The most frequently sold products are generic versions of opioids and anxiety drugs, often in combination, the DEA notes.

Joseph Califano, director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, warned that "anyone of any age can obtain dangerous and addictive prescription drugs with the click of a mouse." He was speaking at the launch of the Center's annual report on the misuse of medicines.

Efforts in recent years at national and state level to clamp down on websites offering medicines appear to have led to a cut in numbers.

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