October 10, 2004

Prescription Drugs Online

Part 3. Drug advertising via email

Few respond to email advertisements, but drug spam continues to pile up.

A tiny percentage of Rx purchasers say their last trip to an online pharmacy was in response to an email advertisement. Many more internet users have received unsolicited email advertising drugs, however.

In October 2003, the Pew Internet Project reported that longtime internet users, those who have been online at least 6 years, are significantly more likely to have heard or read about spam than anyone else. These veteran users are also more likely than less-experienced internet users to say that spam is a big problem. Despite sophisticated efforts to avoid it, longtime internet users get just as much spam as everyone else, possibly because their email address may have been circulating for many years before they learned how to protect it.8 In this study, we find that men and the most veteran internet users are the most likely to report receiving drug spam. Statistical analysis shows that these traits – being a man and being a longtime internet user – are independent predictors of receiving drug spam. That is, holding all variables constant, men are more likely than women to report a heavy volume of drug spam. Longtime internet users – whether they are men, women, young, middle-aged, etc. – are also more likely than other internet users to receive drug spam.

Sexual health medication spam

Sixty-three percent of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising a sexual health medication such as Viagra. Seventy-one percent of male internet users say they have received such an ad, compared to 56% of female internet users. Seventy-two percent of internet users with six or more years of experience online say they have received sexual health drug spam, compared to 59% of those who have been online 4-5 years, 53% of those who have been online 2-3 years, and 30% of those who got online within the past year.

Prescription drug spam

Fifty-five percent of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising a prescription drug. Sixty percent of male internet users say they have received prescription drug spam, compared to 50% of female internet users. Sixty-five percent of internet users with six or more years of experience online say they have received prescription drug spam, compared to 47% of those who have been online 4-5 years, 44% of those who have been online 2-3 years, and 20% of those who got online within the past year.

Over-the-counter drug spam

Forty percent of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising an over-the-counter drug. Forty-nine percent of male internet users say they have received over-the-counter drug spam, compared to 32% of female internet users. Forty-seven percent of internet users with six or more years of experience online say they have received over-the-counter drug spam, compared to 36% of those who have been online 4-5 years, 32% of those who have been online 2-3 years, and 19% of those who got online within the past year. 

  1. “Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet.” (Pew Internet Project: October 22, 2003) Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2003/Spam-How-it-is-hurting-email-and-degrading-life-on-the-Internet.aspx