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Greater internet access leads to an increase in drug abuse, according to docboffins in the US. The researchers consider that this is due to the fact that the internet offers the opportunity to illegally purchase prescription drugs from rogue online pharmacies.

"We know we face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse in the United States. One need only look at statistics for college campuses, where prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances, to see the magnitude of the problem," says Dana Goldman, a top boffin at the University of Southern California. "Our findings suggest that Internet growth may partly explain the increase in prescription drug abuse, since it is well known that these drugs are easily available online."

Goldman and his colleagues came to this conclusion by examining FCC data on access to broadband internet across the States, and correlating this with records on admission to treatment centres for abuse of prescription drugs. Particular favourites, apparently, include powerful narcotic painkillers like Percocet and Oxycontin, and various other painkillers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquillisers.

The study showed that each 10 percent increase in the availability of broadband in a state was followed by a 1 percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse. During the same period admissions involving abuse of alcohol, heroin or cocaine - substances not available online in the US - showed minimal growth or actually decreased. "Overall growth in drug-seeking behavior cannot explain the rise in prescription drug abuse," says Anupam Jena of the Massachusetts General Hospital, collaborating with Goldman on the research. "Further studies need to better evaluate how easily commonly abused prescription drugs can be purchased online and explore the importance to the problem of foreign Internet pharmacies, which are outside the jurisdiction of the US government."

Jena and Goldman's paper Growing Internet Use May Help Explain The Rise In Prescription Drug Abuse In The United States is published online by the journal Health Affairs. ®

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