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Ellen O'Brien

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August 19, 2003

Deadly 'Drug Corner' Moves to Your Computer

(Philadelphia, PA) -- If you're hunting for illegal drugs, you don't have to leave your computer desk to find them. A simple internet search will turn up dozens of websites that let you order your drug-of-choice for home-delivery.

In fact, if you search for "no prescription codeine" through one of the standard computer-search systems, the odds are almost fifty-fifty that the first site you hit will provide an instant opportunity to buy drugs illegally.

That finding by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine will be published in the August 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This is unprecedented access to opiates, and it is relatively undocumented," said Robert F. Forman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, principal author of the study, and a member of Penn's Treatment Research Institute.

Using "Google.com," a commonly used computer search engine, Forman and his Penn colleague, Ovgu Kaynack, BA, found that 53 of the first 100 web-page links generated by typing in the term "no prescription codeine" were sites that offered to sell directly or indirectly opiate medication without a prescription, and 35 of those sites also sold barbituates, benzodiazepines, hallucinogens and other prescription stimulants.

In many instances, Forman said, the only information necessary for purchasing drugs through the sites were a shipping address and a payment method.

He and Kayneck also found that about half the websites were registered outside the United States. Some of those sites pledged secure delivery of drugs by mail. One site promised to "reship your order for free in the event of confiscation." Another claimed, "There is less than a one percent chance of your package being seized" because of the "high volume" of mail-order narcotics entering the United States.

"These websites present a significant risk to public health. The uncontrolled access to prescription drugs can lead to an increase in addiction and overdose deaths, and yet children preparing a report for school may inadvertently stumble upon a portal that leads them to illegal drugs," Forman said. "There is evidence that prescription drug use among young people is increasing. We need to discern whether law enforcement officials in the United States can work effectively against drug sites that operate out of other countries, some of which permit the sale of opiates."

Dr. Forman's work is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network.

For a printer friendly version of this release, click here.

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PENN Medicine is a $2.2 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System (created in 1993 as the nation's first integrated academic health system). Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System consists of four hospitals (including its flagship Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation's "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report), a faculty practice plan, a primary-care provider network, three multispecialty satellite facilities, and home health care and hospice.



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