Teens, older adults fuel increase in online sales of illegal prescription meds

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Health experts are warning families that the threat of illegal medication sales through social media and other online websites is increasing.

A new study by Butler University finds that this is largely affecting two groups of people, older adults hoping to save money on medications by buying online and teenagers looking to get prescription drugs without a prescription.

“The types of medicines bought online are wide ranging as well as the mediums or social media mediums used. Anywhere from messaging services to the ones we commonly know like Snapchat or Twitter are all being used to buy prescription medicines online in fairly significant numbers,” said Dr. John Hertig, assistant professor, Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

And in either case, buying medications online can be dangerous, especially in cases where they could be counterfeit.

“We don’t know where those medicines are coming from and we don’t know what’s in them which poses a significant patient safety risk,” added Dr. Hertig.

For older patients, choosing to buy illegal medicines is because of the lower cost, convenience, anonymity and ease of access.

“Healthcare is expensive and we live in a culture where going online to get a better deal is part of what we do, from holiday gifts to prescription medicine so cost is key,” said Dr. Hertig. “Convenience can be look I live in a pharmacy desert, I don’t have access to a brick and mortar pharmacy, I need a more convenient way to access healthcare, and the internet can be a great tool with regard to convenience.”

One way to keep yourself safe is to ask a healthcare professional for a recommendation of where to get the prescription.

There are also websites like GoodRx and Verify Before You Buy to check out the pharmacy you’re looking to buy from before you do.

As for teens who are getting these medications from online, Dr. Hertig says the best thing to do is you and your family have a talk about the danger of buying prescription drugs from unknown sources.

“Parents need to engage in that dialogue with their kids and say look you’re not even getting what you think you’re getting and you have no idea what that end result is going to be and that risk  is not worth the potential fatal result,” Dr. Hertig said.

Along with educating people not to use these sites, the other main way to curb these illegal drugs is to curb the supply which includes getting law enforcement involved.

At one time there was between 35,000 and 45,000 illegal pharmacy sites, 95% of which were selling illicit products.

However, there are few ways to track exactly how many people are buying these drugs on social media and preventing it from happening is difficult.

“We live in a world where the use of the internet is only going to expand and so now is the right time to try and intervene, to try and engage in that education with our patients, to inform health professionals, work with advocacy groups and legislatures to ensure that we aren’t unintentionally pointing people towards unsafe sources of medicine,” said Dr. Hertig. “We can’t just say to our patients oh just google it and you’ll be fine, we don’t live in that world anymore.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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