Getting antibiotics online presents problems, study says

Heather Woolwine

Sept. 14, 2009

Getting antibiotics online presents problems, study says

CHARLESTON -- According to MUSC researchers, antibiotics are widely available for purchase on the Internet without a prescription, despite efforts to control antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a result of misuse of these drugs. Using a keyword search of “purchase antibiotics without a prescription” and “online” on the top two Internet search engines, Google and Yahoo, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) researchers found 138 unique vendors selling drugs without a prescription. Of those vendors, 36 percent sold antibiotics without a prescription, a practice that is both illegal and potentially dangerous, said MUSC Department of Family Medicine professor Arch G. Mainous, III, Ph.D. Sixty-four percent provide an online diagnosis and prescription without a physical exam or ongoing relationship with a doctor, a practice that is considered inconsistent with appropriate medical care.

“We recommend expanding efforts to control antibiotic resistance in our communities, beyond educating physicians about when to prescribe antibiotics,” Mainous said. “We need education directed to patients and the community, as well as increased regulation and enforcement of existing regulations.”

Penicillins (94 percent), macrolides (96 percent), fluoroquinolones (62 percent) and cephalospoins (57 percent) were found on the majority of these sites. Nearly all (99 percent) the antibiotics found were shipped to the United States with a mean delivery time of eight days. The study, entitled Availability of Antibiotics for Purchase Without a Prescription on the Internet, has been published in the September/October 2009 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine (

Vendors who sold antibiotics without a prescription were more likely to sell in quantities greater than a single course, and more likely to take more than seven days for the antibiotics to reach the customer than were vendors who required a medical interview. The authors suggest these transactions would likely be used by individuals who store drugs for future self-diagnosis and treatment.

A copy of the study is available upon request.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.6 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit or