Foreign Pharmacies Attract U.S. Surfers

While 19 million Americans purchased prescription drugs online from U.S. licensed pharmacies, another 2 to 4.1 million have bought from foreign or rogue online sources, a report from JupiterResearch (a unit of this site’s corporate parent) found.

Prescription usage was nearly evenly split. Roughly half of the survey participants said they had valid authorization from their doctors to obtain the drugs and the other half reportedly used an online questionnaire.

“The way we defined ‘Rogue Pharmacies’ are Web sites that enable online consumers to obtain prescription drugs after filling out online questionnaires and usually do not require consumers to provide prescriptions,” said Monique Levy, health analyst at JupiterResearch.

Consumers are apparently heeding the warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that advise them to only buy from U.S.-based pharmacies, and Jupiter found that prescription users are becoming increasingly concerned about buying from foreign sources.

Six-in-ten survey respondents cited at least one concern that would prevent them from purchasing prescription drugs online, primarily the purity of the drugs and the licensing of the pharmacies.

Levy said, “Our 2003 survey indicated that most drugs from foreign sources are coming from Canada followed by Mexico,” and traffic measurements from Hitwise supported the findings.

Of the June 2004 top 20 sites in Hitwise’s pharmacy category (encompassing the Web sites of pharmacies, chemists and druggists), one-quarter clearly identified themselves as Canadian or Mexican. The remainder were either based in the U.S. or were of unknown origin. References to “Canada” and “Mexico” are also peppered throughout the most popular search terms that led Internet users to pharmacies.

The local vs. international traffic ratio for the pharmacy category is high when compared to the entire health and medical category for June 2004. Roughly 84 percent of traffic to the pharmacy category during June 2004 was directed at local sites and over 16 percent was directed at international sites.

Nearly 93 percent of traffic to sites devoted to primary and secondary health provision, health information, medical and pharmaceutical products manufacturers, hospitals, paramedical services, organizations and general health and well-being lifestyle was locally directed, and just 7 percent of traffic was directed at international sites in the overall health and medical category.

The high cost of prescription drugs often leads seniors to shop for discounts online. In June 2004, the largest portion (nearly 37 percent) of the visitors to Hitwise’s pharmacy category were over the age of 55, compared to just over 20 percent in the overall health and medical category.

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