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Internet Drug Site Surveys Expose Disturbing Trends

Katherine M. Bennett

Two new studies of World Wide Web sites that sell prescription drugs electronically warn of dangers awaiting unsuspecting consumers.

The first study, "Internet Availability of Prescription Pharmaceuticals to the Public," published in a December 1999 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, discovered that only 37 of the 46 surveyed Web sites required a prescription from a personal physician or consultation with an Internet physician. Researchers found that the overall cost of online medication purchase and physician consultation, sold separately, were higher than at pharmacies and for general physician visits in the Philadelphia area. The second study, "Direct Sale of Sildenafil (Viagra) to Consumers Over the Internet," published in the Oct. 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by other researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, explored 77 Web sites that offered to send the impotence remedy directly to consumers and bypass an office visit. About half the sites required consumers to fill out a questionnaire that substituted for a medical evaluation. Not all the sites asked about consumers' use of nitrates, which can produce serious interactions with sildenafil. To view the two articles, go to and