Survey: More Patients Visit Online Pharmacies That Do Not Require Prescriptions

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The number of people who visited online pharmacies that do not require prescriptions or that offer "remote consultations" has increased 36% in the fourth quarter of 2004, according to an analysis of browsing trends by comScore Networks, the Boston Globe reports. Heavy online advertising and e-mail spam probably led to the growth, said Carolina Petrini, vice president of comScore.

The survey found at least 3,000 different online pharmacies, of which the two most popular sites were the Canadian-based canadapharmacy.com and legalmedsonline.com, which is not an actual pharmacy site but rather a site that connects consumers to other Internet pharmacies for $37.95. Drugstore.com, Walmart.com, Walgreens.com and Express-Scripts.com, which all are U.S.-based sites, were the most-visited sites, in consecutive order. The six most popular sites require patients to get prescriptions on their own and mail or fax them to the site.

The seventh most popular site was Pillstore.com, which had 627,000 visits in the fourth quarter of 2004, the Globe reports. According to the Globe, Pillstore.com exemplifies how several online pharmacies operate. Patients fill out an online questionnaire that includes information such as age, gender, height and weight, as well as questions about what drugs they are taking. Patients then communicate with a physician via an online system that the site says is secure. There is no way to verify if patients are being honest in their questionnaire or if a legitimate physician is reviewing the forms, the Globe reports. The site does not include a phone number.

Federal law does not prohibit prescribing without a physical examination as long as sites do not dispense narcotics and other controlled substances, the Globe reports. However, the FDA has cautioned against ordering drugs from such sites because consumers cannot tell how thorough the online examinations are and because the sites often do not list addresses or phone numbers. Petrini said analysts at comScore suspect that some sites that say they offer remote consultations do not actually do so, the Globe reports (Rowland, Boston Globe, 4/7).


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