October 10, 2004

Prescription Drugs Online

One in four Americans have looked online for drug information, but few have ventured into the online drug marketplace

Sixty-four percent of American households are regular consumers of prescription drugs.

Forty-five percent of American adults, or about 91 million people, take prescription drugs on a regular basis. Forty-one percent of American adults live with someone who regularly takes prescription drugs. In total, 64% of American households have a regular connection to the prescription drug marketplace.

One in four American adults has searched online for information about prescription drugs.

Twenty-six percent of American adults have researched prescription drugs online – 21% have personally done so and 5% have had it done for them by someone else. Those groups most likely to have personally searched for drug information include: internet users with high-speed connections at work and at home; internet users who have been online for six or more years; Americans with a college degree; and Americans in the Baby Boom generation. Americans living with a disability or chronic illness are no more likely than other Americans to search for prescription drug information online.

Most Americans do not fully trust the online prescription drug marketplace.

Sixty-two percent of Americans think purchasing prescription drugs online is less safe than purchasing them at a local pharmacy. Twenty percent of Americans think such online purchases are as safe as local purchases. Eighteen percent of Americans responded that they did not know or that it depends on the situation.

A fraction of Americans has ever bought prescription drugs online.

Only 4% of Americans have ever purchased prescription drugs on the internet.  Three percent of Americans placed the order themselves and 1% had someone else do it. Our survey of 2,200 American adults yielded just 93 people who had purchased prescription drugs online, so this small sample of buyers is subject to a much larger sampling error than applies to the total sample of respondents. Americans living in higher-income households ($50,000+ annually) and internet users with six or more years of online experience are more likely to have made such a purchase.

Rx purchasers – Americans who answer yes to the following question: “Have you ever purchased prescription drugs on the internet, whether you placed the order yourself or someone else did it for you?”

Convenience is the top reason for online prescription-drug purchasing.

The small number of Americans who have ordered prescription drugs online are likely to cite convenience and cost savings as the main reasons why they decided to take the leap. Privacy is the least likely factor of the choices offered in the survey.

The typical online transaction includes a doctor’s prescription, a U.S.-based pharmacy, and satisfied customers.

When asked about the last time they purchased prescription drugs online, the vast majority of Rx purchasers say the site required a prescription and nearly all Rx purchasers say they had a prescription from their doctor. The vast majority of Rx purchasers visited a site that was based in the United States; a few visited a site based in another country and a few do not know where the site is based.

In addition:

  • Three-quarters of Rx purchasers say the last time they purchased prescription drugs online, they bought a drug for a chronic medical condition such as high blood pressure or arthritis.
  • One quarter of Rx purchasers say their last purchase at an online pharmacy was for some other purpose, such as weight loss or sexual performance.
  • Most Rx purchasers were satisfied with their last contact with an online pharmacy and plan to order prescription drugs online in the future.

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.

  • 63% of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising a sexual health medication like Viagra.
  • 55% of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising a prescription drug.
  • 40% of internet users say they have received an unsolicited email advertising an over-the-counter drug.

Ignorance and mistrust of the online prescription drug market may be dispelled by further research and good experiences.

There are indications that Americans could change their minds about the safety of online prescription drug purchases. Those who research a product online often become customers. Convenience is the number one reason why banking became the fastest-growing activity between 2000 and 2002 – and it is the main reason why current Rx purchasers made the switch from off-line to online ordering. Most Rx purchasers are satisfied customers and plan to continue buying prescription drugs online.

Summary of Findings at a Glance