Could increasing Internet use help explain the recent surge in prescription drug misuse in the US? That's the hypothesis put forth by a new study published in Health Affairs.
Between 1997 and 2007, Americans' household access to the Internet went from 18 percent to 61 percent; between 1999 and 2003, online sales of prescription drugs grew from $160 million to $3.2 billion.
In the new study, researchers compared states' growth in high-speed Internet access with their rates of admission to rehabs for problems associated with prescription drugs.
"In general, for every 10 percent increase in Internet use, what we're seeing is a one percent increase in admission to treatment facilities for the most commonly prescribed drugs, things like painkillers and stimulants," says lead author Dana Goldman at the University of Southern California.
Dana thinks the link is likely to be causal. "One of the things that gives me a lot confidence in that is that we looked at the relationships with drugs that you can't really get on Internet like heroin. When you replicate the [findings] using heroin, you don't find any association [with increased Internet use] and the same is true with cocaine and alcohol," Dana says.