Impact of Internet pharmacy regulation on opioid analgesic availability

UMMS Affiliation

Division of Medical Toxicology

Publication Date


Document Type



Analgesics, Opioid; Commerce; Drug and Narcotic Control; Humans; Internet; Opioid-Related Disorders; Pharmaceutical Services


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


OBJECTIVE: Access to prescription opioid analgesics has made Internet pharmacies the object of increased regulatory scrutiny, but the effectiveness of regulatory changes in curtailing availability of opioid analgesics from online sources has been not assessed. As part of an ongoing investigation into the relationship between the Internet and substance abuse, we examined the availability of prescription opioid analgesics from online pharmacies.

METHOD: From a pharmacy watch Web site, we constructed a data set of postings entered every 3 months beginning November 1, 2005, that were related to the purchase of prescription opioid analgesics. Trained examiners assessed whether the final post described accessibility of pain medications that was increasing or decreasing.

RESULTS: We identified 45 threads related to the availability of opioid analgesics from Internet pharmacies. Of the 41 (91%) threads describing the declining availability of opioid analgesic agents from Internet pharmacies, 34 (82%) received posts on November 1, 2007. Despite the subjective nature of the research question, there was high interobserver agreement between coders (kappa= .845) that availability of opioid analgesics from online pharmacies had decreased. This finding was supported by a dramatic rise in the number of pageviews (an accepted measure of Web site visitor interest in a page's content) of Web pages describing decreased availability of opioid analgesics.

CONCLUSIONS:These data suggest striking decreases in the availability of prescription opioid analgesic pharmaceuticals. This self-reported change in drug availability may be related to increased regulation of and law enforcement operations directed against Internet pharmacies.


J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2008 Sep;69(5):703-8.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs

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