NEW YORK -- Only 4 percent of Americans have ever used the Internet to buy prescription drugs -- and even fewer do so through foreign pharmacies -- despite websites maintained by a handful of states to help citizens import medicines more cheaply from Canada, a new study finds.
A majority -- 62 percent -- believe drugs bought online are less safe than those purchased from a local pharmacy, accepting the federal government's stated concerns in opposing drug imports, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said in a report yesterday.
The Food and Drug Administration said it cannot guarantee the safety of drugs sold through foreign pharmacies, though it has not stopped states from setting up sites to help consumers buy drugs through Canadian pharmacies.
Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and New Hampshire are among states that established such sites before Pew's May 15-June 17 survey period. Rhode Island linked its state-run prescription drug site to Wisconsin's. Illinois's came online later in the summer.
Of the 4 percent of Americans who bought online, the vast majority went to pharmacies based in the United States, meaning the population of online drug importers is even smaller. Most said the site required a prescription and said they had one from their doctor.
The online drug buyers tend to live in higher-income households and have six or more years of online experience. Three-quarters of the online drug buyers say their most recent purchase was for a chronic medical condition, such as arthritis or high blood pressure, and most said they were satisfied and planned to order online again.
Most cited convenience and cost savings as reasons for buying online.